The Fan Experience: Buying in

What do fans get for their money?

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

The Fan Experience

PORTLAND — He's a 39-year-old man.

A 39-year-old man wearing a green bow tie and a kilt and red socks and wing tips. Sharply polished wing tips.

So, yeah, Houston Oldland would look out of place just about anywhere, yet he appears right at home amid the madness of Jeld-Wen Field.

"You haven't seen my full garb. This is mild," the Portland man says.

Huh?

For the Money: Trail Blazers

What: Portland’s 43-year-old NBA franchise.

Where: Rose Garden, just off I-5 in Northeast Portland.

Transportation: The red, blue and green MAX lines from east Portland and the yellow MAX line from north Portland all stop at the arena. Be forewarned: After 10 p.m. (for a return trip after a late game), the yellow line schedule slows to one train every 34 minutes.

Parking: $13 in one of the on-site garages.

Locally: Nearby options for pre-game dining are limited, as the Rose Quarter area has been unable over the years to support a full-service restaurant. The best bet is to dine downtown and take MAX to the arena.

Tickets: Face values for this season’s one remaining home game range from $15 to $165. Secondary ticket markets are thriving at StubHub.com, Blazers.com, and various other Web sites.

Alcohol: A craft beer from Widmer or Portland Brewing is $9 for 20 ounces; cheaper beer is available, but it’s really not cheap. Mixed drinks are available in several locations, and several bars are on site.

Food: There are plenty of options beyond the normal concession-stand fare. A Qdoba burrito is $9.50; Pacific Northwest fish and chips are $14.50.

Concessions: Hot dogs are $5.50; a 22-ounce soft drink is $5.50.

Of note: The Wi-Fi and cell phone service in the arena is about as good as it was when Lewis and Clark explored the Northwest.

— Greg Jayne

For the Money: Timbers

What: Portland’s 3-year-old Major League Soccer franchise.

Where: Jeld-Wen Field near downtown Portland.

Transportation: The red and blue MAX lines from east Portland go directly to Jeld-Wen; the yellow MAX line from north Portland and green line from east Portland require a transfer to a red or blue train.

Parking: Seriously? This is downtown Portland.

Locally: Part of the Timbers experience is to have a pint before the game. The Bitter End on nearby Burnside has closed, but the Kingston — across the street from Jeld-Wen — offers a pint of Guinness for $4.75. Can’t beat the price, but it’s not poured properly and is not served in a traditional Guinness glass.

Tickets: Face values range from $15 to $125. Limited tickets are available for the remainder of the season, which runs until late October. Tickets to the Timbers Army sections (general admission, so arrive early) are $25.

Alcohol: A craft beer from Widmer or Portland Brewing is $9 for 20 ounces; cheaper beer is available, but it’s not really cheap. Mixed drinks also are available.

Food: Plenty of options beyond the normal concession-stand fare, but the narrow concourse can make it laborious to reach.

Concessions: Hot dogs are $5.50; a 22-ounce soft drink is $5.50.

Of note: There’s no truth to the rumor that you must be wearing one of those oversized Timbers scarves to be admitted. It just seems that way when you look at the crowd.

— Greg Jayne

"I work as a pirate."

What?

"I'm a professional pirate."

Well, when he's not working as an acupuncturist, he reveals. All of which makes Houston Oldland just about the most interesting person you'll meet on this day. All of which serves as a wonderful introduction to the crowd that has gathered for the latest Portland Timbers game.

It's a rainy Saturday night, and Oldland and about 20,673 of his closest friends have come together for what serves as just about the hippest gathering in the metro area.

"The fan experience is amazing," he explains. "It's about being here and seeing my friends. We love the Timbers because they're ours."

Which, in the ever-competitive market for entertainment dollars, is a perfect explanation for what brings fans out to stadiums and arenas. It's a communal attraction that remains unique to sports, and it's an attraction that professional sports franchises spend time and money trying to cultivate.

"Your view is always better in your living room," noted Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Marketing Program at the University of Oregon. "The line to the bathroom is shorter; the beer's probably cheaper."

Yes, selling big-time, big-money sports and drawing fans to a stadium or arena requires effort on the part of franchises.

With the Portland Trail Blazers and the Portland Timbers, there are two local franchises that compete at the highest North American level of their sport.

So the question becomes a simple one: What kind of experience do fans receive for their entertainment dollar?

The old guard

With his son sitting atop his shoulders while waving a giant foam "We're No. 1" hand, Jeremy Trtek of Hillsboro looks like a walking advertisement for the Portland Trail Blazers.

"He said he wanted a hat, but we ended up with a foam finger," dad says of 2 1/2-year-old Parker. And with that, $8 more went toward the city's NBA team.

Trtek has been following the Blazers all his life — "I grew up with it." He attends three or four games a year, and Blazer tickets for the whole family are a traditional Christmas gift.

"The atmosphere," Trtek said when asked what draws him to the Rose Garden. "Ahead or behind, the crowd is amazing."

Trtek reflects the kind of loyalty the Blazers have spent 43 years cultivating, but the experience inside the building has changed over the years.

"The NBA realized very early that they had to provide an entertainment experience that included a basketball game," Swangard said.

That turns a Blazer game into a multimedia experience. There's giant video board over center court for replays and live action. There is music during timeouts and shots of fans who dance in order to, well, in order to get shown on the video board. There are T-shirt giveaways and the BlazerDancers and an acrobatic team.

And, as is the norm for modern sports franchises, there is just as much action in the concourse as there is in the arena. The Rose Garden has more bars than a good cell-phone connection, offering mixed drinks and the latest in craft beers. And food kiosks serve up Mexican food or donuts or a "blacken catfish and bacon sub."

In other words, it's not the plain hot dog and flat beer of your father's sporting event. Those are still available, however.

"The Blazers have to get somebody in the building for one game, and then hope they buy a mini-package, and then a half-season package, and then a season ticket," Swangard said.

The new kids

All of that serves as a contrast to a Timbers' game at Jeld-Wen Field in downtown Portland.

In their third season as part of Major League Soccer, after several years as a high-level minor-league club, the Timbers are still in the honeymoon phase.

That generates the kind of passion that has Fernando Melo and his friends lining up outside the stadium 12 hours before a match in order to secure their favorite seats in the front row of Section 105.

"It's like a Star Wars convention for jocks," Melo said.

Or, as comrade Kyle Kimmerle added, "You've got hippies; I'm the president of a company; it's a melting pot of society."

The attraction, for many, is the Timbers Army, a large group of rabid loyalists who occupy general-admission seating and spend the game serving up organized chants and songs while frequently using hand gestures to, um, indicate who is No. 1.

"If you don't want to be part of the Army, you want to be there to see what the Army's up to," said the Warsaw marketing program's Swangard.

Take Linda Sella of Portland, a longtime soccer watcher who has season tickets in another part of the stadium.

"They call us the library," she said of her section. "I don't know why; we yell."

Fan loyalty

By nature of being in an open stadium and by nature of soccer being a game without stoppages in play, the Timbers offer a more organic experience than the manufactured excitement of an NBA game. On the other hand, the frequent scoring and high-flying dunks of basketball offer a visceral attraction.

But regardless of the nature of a sport, major-league teams are aiming to generate a sense of community among their fans. That can be the strongest selling point, and that's what drew Oldland, the part-time pirate, to the Timbers when he left New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

"This was my first family when I got here," he says of the Timbers Army. "We come out and we want the Timbers to love us as much we love them."

Greg Jayne, Sports editor of The Columbian, can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com