Timbers debut gets the money flowing

Timbers debut gets the money flowing

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Timbers owner Merritt Paulson says his team will bring $30 million and 300 jobs to the local economy.
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A massive billboard campaign created by Jelly Helm has generated considerable buzz since it debuted in late 2010. "We didn't know it would be so popular," says Timbers COO Mike Golub.
Forging a connection with the community and making use of local talent is important to the Timbers, from bumping players up from the minor league 2010 team to creating the iconic billboard campaign. Jelly Helm, longtime friend of the Timbers and head of his own creative studio, was retained by the Timbers to help manage marketing efforts. What he brought was the We Are Timbers concept, a literally massive billboard campaign that’s generated plenty of buzz since it debuted in late 2010. “We didn't know it would be so popular,” says Timbers COO Mike Golub. “People identify with it.” When the team offered fans the chance to pose with axes and chainsaws while Helm manned the camera, 1,500 people took them up on the offer, waiting as long as an hour and a half outside the Timbers store downtown.

The Timbers front office felt that outdoor advertising was the most cost-efficient, so they bought a lot of very big billboards. “We bought billboards in a concentrated way,” says Golub. “It feels like we’re everywhere, even though we're not.”

It can be hard to judge the return on investment for billboards like these, but Golub says season ticket sales, jersey sales, social media buzz and corporate partnerships are all important metrics. Website traffic for the Timbers’ site, PortlandTimbers.com, was No. 1 in the league for December 2010 and January 2011, and season ticket sales have nearly sold out two months before the first home game, so the front office is happy with the billboards’ performance.

Some MLS teams, like the Los Angeles Galaxy, have to compete for those jersey sales and billboard spaces with other local sports teams. But like Portland, Salt Lake City has just one other professional sports team, the Utah Jazz, and one fairly new MLS team, Real Salt Lake, which has been part of the league since the 2005 season and won the MLS Cup in 2009. And its metropolitan area has nearly the same number of people living in it as Portland’s metro area: 2.2 million.

In 2008, the team moved from rented college football facilities to the brand-new Rio Tinto Stadium, which is of a similar size to the renovated Jeld-Wen Field, in Sandy, Utah, 25 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City. Having permanent digs allowed the team to go from signing single-year sponsorships to inking multi-year deals with a $35,000 minimum for the 2011 season. It’s made a difference for the suburb, too. Hosting the 2009 MLS All-Star game on a Wednesday night brought $3.5 million to local businesses, including restaurants, hotel and shops, according to Trey Fitz-Gerald, director of public affairs and broadcasting.
Fitz-Gerald, who has been with the league since its inception in 1996, admits that every team has a sophomore slump in ticket sales, which the Timbers are anticipating. “The looky-loos are curious, and then they figure out that this doesn't fit into their lives,” says Fitz-Gerald. “Or they think, ‘That was cool, but do I really want to spend $500 to do it again?’” But he notes that with Portland’s four decades of soccer experience, phenomenal fan base, and the work of Timbers COO Mike Golub, “The Timbers may be the ones to break the slump.”