Onward Rose City Project’s ideal outcome is 100 percent supporter ownership of the Timbers and Thorns. Because of the amount of capital required, we may only be able to secure a minority share. At the very least, however, this will give us a seat at the table and an opportunity to vet and assist potential ownership groups.
The Onward Rose City team is in the process of setting up a legal entity for this purpose. Our group is researching the governance structures of other supporter-owned clubs to learn what the best practices are going forward.
The most common structure of community ownership is that shareholders vote for an assembly or board, which is then responsible for club direction. The teams themselves would continue to be operated on a day-to-day basis by highly qualified executives, coaches, trainers, and professionals at all levels.
We expect that the leagues and other owners may not welcome the idea of supporters with a direct ownership interest in the club. We say that without the supporters, there is no soccer, so invite us to the table.
We want to pioneer a supporter-owned structure and evolve the U.S. soccer landscape in a positive and inclusive way. Importantly, we helped turn Portland into a destination for the highest level of professional soccer, and we can ensure that legacy continues by becoming stakeholders.
It should be noted that the MLS charter expressly prohibits this type of majority ownership. We will go forward undeterred, however. Rules and charters can be amended. Our unity and broad-based support can — and will — strengthen the case for amending the existing MLS constitution.
The most obvious way to achieve this is for us to publicly declare our intention to become community owners and to work with the current ownership, the leagues, and the local government to make it happen. By doing so, we will rebuild trust with Portland soccer fans and pioneer a new method of ensuring the long-term health of soccer in the U.S.
The case for supporter ownership
Supporter-owned teams are nothing new. In fact, they have been the historical norm, and some of the most successful soccer clubs and professional sports teams in the world are owned — at least in part — by their fans.
- The German Bundesliga institutionalized supporter ownership with the “50+1 rule,” which ensures that fans have majority ownership and voting rights at each club.
- Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, the world’s two most valuable soccer clubs, are each entirely owned by members (90k and 143k, respectively). Those members elect an assembly that is similar to a board of directors to oversee major decisions by the clubs.
- All soccer teams in Argentina and a majority in Brazil are supporter-owned nonprofits.
- Among major U.S. sports teams, the Green Bay Packers are community-owned through a nonprofit.
Supporter-owned clubs can operate at the highest levels and unite the supporters and communities in a way that no private ownership group can ever dream of. We believe this should be the future of professional sports ownership, where the community that supports the club is reflected in the club’s values and the club’s profits are, in a real sense, community assets.