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Fans and supporters: Maintaining perspective on the Cascadia Cup conflict

Jan 26, 2013, 7:00 PM EDT

San Jose Earthquakes v Portland Timbers Getty Images

The dues-paying “supporters” portion of the Timbers Army numbers over 3,000.1 On game days, they make up the core of a JELD-WEN north end that’s become the most impressive supporters’ section in Major League Soccer. When in full voice, the height of the Army’s calls careen off the concrete building at the stadium south’s end, the resulting echo amplifying their voice for the 20,000-plus gathered in the cavern of northwest Portland. If you didn’t know better, you’d think half the crowd were TA members.

Though many who hold Timbers season tickets align themselves with the Timbers Army, most aren’t actual members. At least, they’re not 107ists – the distinction given to members of Portland’s supporters’ trust. Come game days, they’re just like-minded fans, their green and white scarves and throat-shredding screams making them indistinguishable from bonafide supporters.

The story is the same in Seattle and Vancouver. The people sitting with the Emerald City Supporters or Gorilla FC are a sliver of the team’s huge crowns at CenturyLink Field, and even though the full voice of the CLink crowd transcend the few sections the organized fans occupy at the stadium’s sound end, the number of affiliated supporters is small. In Vancouver, the Southsiders make up a similar ratio.

Amid all the hype and conflict of the ongoing (but thankfully, diminished) Cascadia Cup controversy, these proportions get forgotten. As coverage like ours tries to depict the strength of supporter ire, our language confounds the difference between supporters and fans. For all their devotion, organization, and publicity, supporters (in North America’s strict sense) make up a small portion of people who hold tickets to a match. Most of the people who show up to Sounders, Timbers, and Whitecaps games may sympathize with what the supporters are doing, but they don’t live lives that leave them elbow deep in the implications of MLS-related trademark pursuits.

As the most devoted fans of MLS read and write about the league, we forget most people don’t follow the league don’t do so with the same minute-to-minute intensity. Most reading about the Cascadia Cup conflict are more likely to be intrigued than impassioned, even in the fan-dense Pacific Northwest. The day-to-day “supporters” — people who truly care about things like the Cascadia Cup Council — may not number more than four digits worth of people. Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver’s combined attendance averages over 80,000 people per game.

That ratio doesn’t diminish the value of their claims. In fact, it may prove irrelevant in the battle for the trademark, though when talking about the scope of the conflict, it’s important to remember who’s fighting this battle.

The Cascadia Cup clash isn’t League versus Fans. It’s League versus Supporters, a much smaller group of customers. That may not change the debate, but it does cast it in a different context.

1 – As Timbers’ fans have pointed out since this article first went up, the 3,000 number understates the amount of support Portland has at home games. The number was originally chosen to reflect the membership in the supporter’s trust. The sentence has been changed to reflect this.

  1. pensfan603 - Jan 26, 2013 at 7:34 PM

    ya but the supports atmosphere is what brings in alot of other fans and the teams that have the biggest supporters sections are the teams that have the best fan bases.

  2. buckyball77 - Jan 26, 2013 at 7:36 PM

    So, you’re saying that if the MLS does a smash and grab of the trademark of a competition that was organized before ANY of the three teams was even part of the MLS, that’s kinda ok because MLS is really only screwing a few thousand people rather than many thousands of fans?

    Just want to make sure I understand your point.

    • Richard Farley - Jan 26, 2013 at 7:53 PM

      No. The last couple of paragraphs should clear up that confusion.

  3. theaxepdx - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:02 PM

    richard–i am trying to understand what you mean when write the large number of supporters does not diminish claims to a cup but is nevertheless irrelevant. before i take an even harder critical look to your article, i would like to have some clarification on these antithetical and seemingly incompatible ideas.

    • Richard Farley - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:04 PM

      I mean in the legal sense. The legal merits may (or may not) find the base of support meaningless to the claims of either side as it concerns awarding the trademark.

      Thanks for asking.

      • theaxepdx - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:10 PM

        ok, so, you would agree that, regardless of the number of people who actually have memberships within the respective supporter groups, the fact the cup has pre-existed don garber’s knowledge of the 3 clubs that the cup belongs to those supporters? in other words, it would not matter if only 3 people lay claim to the cup the fact those 3 people created it well before any connection with MLS would be sufficient to support their claim.

      • Richard Farley - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:14 PM

        Absolutely. In a previous piece, I said I see MLS’s point of view, I agree with the CCC’s stance. And I don’t think the numbers game matters at all.

      • theaxepdx - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:20 PM

        i think many have had difficulty deciphering the fact you are actually advocating for the supporters groups’s claims when reading this and your prior piece, and they would appreciate it being articulated the way you have just now. i am sure you are aware this is a very sensitive area of discussion amongst incredibly passionate fans. all 3 groups love their clubs and place great importance on the cup.

      • Richard Farley - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:28 PM

        I appreciate that, but in my experience, the problem w/ the previous piece was that I acknowledged that MLS has some points (at least from their point of view). In interacting with people on Twitter, that view was unacceptable. I couldn’t both say CCC was right to defend what they created and acknowledge Garber made an interesting point last Thursday.

        Thankfully, the people who are willing to talk like this have vastly outnumbered the 6-8 who interacted with me who said they are upset by the posts, but that’s the line of work this is :) You have to be willing to accept that.

      • themightythor666 - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:28 PM

        Is he actually advocating for the SG’s position? Sounds to me like he’s pulling a divide and conquer, trying to separate the “supporter” from the rest of the “respectable” customers. “Don’t worry about the hubbub coming from those dastardly folks who occasionally say rude things down in the north end. there aren’t very many of them. We’ll take care of the cup”. Maybe I am being paranoid but then again this is being hosted on nbcsports.com, who has a markedly vested interest in being able to promote their coverage of the Cascadia Cup, seeing as their coverage of the league barely makes the meter move on the ratings unless its a C. Cup match.

      • theaxepdx - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:39 PM

        i would suggest there is a greater number of offended individuals than the 6-8 that have posted. until this conversation, i really had no idea where you stood on the debate. and, as frustrated as i may have been/am by the articles, i try to be constructive in my conversations in order to obtain a better understanding of other positions. personally, i would have preferred to see you flesh out your arguments and express your position more clearly.

        cheers.

      • Richard Farley - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:41 PM

        Thanks. Please take a look at the pice linked at “Cascadia Cup controversy,” above. I didn’t want to repeat any of that. That fully outlines where I stand on this. They were fleshed out there, so I didn’t want to be redundant; however, if you just jump in at this post, it’s going to look … out of context, ironically. To a certain extent, that’s blogging.

        And thanks for engaging, not raging.

  4. themightythor666 - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:21 PM

    Joy, another piece of drivel from Garber’s propaganda shills.

  5. pensfan603 - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:24 PM

    how is this at all garber propoganda, why would garber want the fans thinking he didnt careif he lost 3 thousand fans as long as he retains the majority if your garber you want people thinking you love them all

    • themightythor666 - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:29 PM

      Ill copy and paste where a put my rationale in the above comments
      “Sounds to me like he’s pulling a divide and conquer, trying to separate the “supporter” from the rest of the “respectable” customers. “Don’t worry about the hubbub coming from those dastardly folks who occasionally say rude things down in the north end. there aren’t very many of them. We’ll take care of the cup”. Maybe I am being paranoid but then again this is being hosted on nbcsports.com, who has a markedly vested interest in being able to promote their coverage of the Cascadia Cup, seeing as their coverage of the league barely makes the meter move on the ratings unless its a C. Cup match”

      • Richard Farley - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:40 PM

        I understand what you’re saying, but in a precious piece on this site, I wrote re: Garber’s comments last Thursday:

        “It’s a compelling point, but the fact remains: The supporters in the northwest created the trophy. Major League Soccer may be better equipped to manage the brand, but it’s not theirs. With the recent creation of the Cascadia Cup Council — an umbrella organization that’s also seeking the U.S. and Canadian trademarks — fans finally have a singular entity that can make their ownership claim.”

        This piece is more about perception. The way that we (myself, others) have depicted the disagreement to this point makes is seem the 80,000 (attendance #) who go to the three team’s games are up in arms and taking it to the streets and …

        … and it’s not. The people directly represented by the CCC (the actual members) are number smaller.

        Does that matter, in terms of the actual trademark case? No. That’s why those last two paragraphs are there.

        It does matter in terms of how people like me frame the story.

      • mpacific - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:59 PM

        How you frame the story is your choice. Let’s pretend that your figure of 3,000 is at all accurate (which it’s not). Is it ok that the MLS is trying to strong-arm and screw 3,000 fans? Is that better than 20,000? 3 or 300,000, the narrative is the same: MLS is trying to lay claim to something they have no rights to and is trying to cash in on the supporters’ hard work.

  6. spmcgraw - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:56 PM

    Richard while I understand that you’re in agreeance with those of us in the Northwest I think that you still leave out some “supporters” by limiting yourself to those who pay dues to the trusts. I am not a member of the 107ist and therefore not a supporter based off your description. I follow news daily and am consistently reading articles about the Timbers and MLS in general. I, too, am passionate about the Cascadia Cup staying in the hands of those who created it. While I understand where you are coming from I just don’t think it’s fair to dismiss supporters who may not be members of the trusts.

    • Richard Farley - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:59 PM

      I actually agree. I think what the post is trying to imply is that CCC can be seen as representing those who have official memberships in the groups under their umbrella; however, I can see how others see those groups as representing their non-paying views, which I tried to include a few sentences regarding similarly “aligned’ fans.

  7. claykavalier - Jan 26, 2013 at 9:29 PM

    The facts are these:

    1) The teams predate MLS
    2) The supporters groups predate MLS
    3) The Cascadia Cup predates MLS
    4) The supporters groups created, paid for, and care for, the Cascadia Cup
    5) MLS filed a trademark application in Canada without consulting with the supporters groups
    6) MLS continues to use language asserting their right to trademark the Cascadia Cup which, as noted in points 3 and 4, they did not create or pay for
    7) The Timbers Army (I can’t speak of Emerald City Supporters or Southsiders) is open to any fan who wants to participate.
    8) The 107st Independent Supporters Trust funds, through membership and merchandise sales and, someone correct me if I’m wrong, a portion of Timbers Army section ticket sales, exactly the kind of atmosphere and game day experience that MLS is seeking to co-opt, monetize, and profit from. 107st makes away game travel arrangements, organizes community volunteering and charitable efforts, designs and creates merchandise and tifo, etc.
    9) There are a variety of fans of each team that participate in supporting those teams to varying degrees and in different ways. Not every fan appreciates the level of dedication and passion brought to the matches by the supporters groups, but it is the environment created by the supporters groups that is going to grow the league.
    10) It doesn’t matter what MLS’ dubious intentions are. They have no right. Hopefully that will be recognized legally, though the principle seems obvious in light of aforementioned facts 1-4.

    Thank you. Drive thru.

    • claykavalier - Jan 26, 2013 at 9:30 PM

      The sunshiny happy face was supposed to be point 8.

  8. SD1 Timbers Special Forces - Jan 27, 2013 at 8:14 AM

    This is bigger than the MLS, this is bigger than Soccer.

    This is about our special part of the West Coast we regionally call Cascadia. The Cascadian flag flies next the U.S., and either the Canadian flag or the Oregon flag at every Cascadian match. Lots of people, not just supporters, attending games at all three understand that the term is identified as “our” region and take offense at having the term taken from them. You will find a much deeper and broader sympathy for the idea of Cascadia in regular fans than almost any other aspect of playing Soccer. This touched a real nerve in the people in this region.

    It’s bigger than just supporters of Soccer teams. It’s as big as Cascadia.

    • SD1 Timbers Special Forces - Jan 27, 2013 at 4:04 PM

      Unless you live you here, you don’t have enough information for emotional context. Don’t apply your values to Cascadia. If you don’t “get it” well, you’re obviously not from Cascadia. For those who don’t live here, you should read this.

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/zachslaton/2013/01/24/honest-discussion-required-in-cascadia-cup-discussions/

  9. corgster - Jan 27, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    This “perspective” piece is trying to understand the scale of the groups involved and is only ancillary to the actual standard it could create if MLS does get complete trademark control over the phrase “Cascadia Cup”. That discussion is not present here. I’m not sure how you can divorce the organization of a supporter’s group from the fan base inside a stadium. I see the logic that all TA are Timbers fans and not all Timbers fans are TA. However, all Timbers fans are not interested in this outcome? That is a bridge too far.

    Lets get some perspective. Question: MLS can appropriate any message or phrase used within the walls of MLS competition no matter the size? I’m not sure fans would be comfortable with that. “Be Massive” could be trademarked because in the logic of MLS: “To prevent the monetizing of a trademark that would not be in MLS’ interest.” You do not seek trademarks unless you were going to MONETIZE it. The fans never sought a trademark because they didn’t expect to ever monetize it. They have a stated integrity to keep the Cup a fan based trophy in the Northwest with no corporate trappings that American sports fans loathe but have come to expect.

    Also, trademarks are not like internet addresses. You don’t squat on them, they must be used in order to assert the legal claim to it. MLS is trying to take a phrase and use it for monetary gain. Not only out of paternal attitude (because that is an effect) but to clearly make money on it. “Be Massive” would be torn from Nordecke supporters because it is used in MLS competition for the Columbus Crew. That is some powerful legal claim if it were true. That is a perspective.

  10. crossmlk - Jan 27, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    I get it. The cup was created by fans of the three teams before MLS existed. It has special meaning to those who created it. But and this is where MLS has a stake, you’re using MLS matches to determine the winner of the cup. Therefore MLS has a stake albeit not as strong of one as the supporters groups. Common ground is available and needs to be found.

    • corgster - Jan 27, 2013 at 10:13 PM

      You realize this is a non-league sanctioned competition. It is as simple as three fans using the table to determine bragging rights. The attention of MLS is irrelevant to the history and basis for the competition. It uses MLS only as the backdrop for the fan rivalry.

  11. genemerrill - Jan 27, 2013 at 10:47 PM

    What is the purpose/theme/point of this article? I would suspect any of us following this issue with “minute-to-minute intensity” would file this under simple link-baiting and move on. You add no original thoughts to the conversation; rather you offer frustrating I-can-understand-both-sides vagueness with no references to any specific points from either side. In the comments you go one step further in your mobius strip of analysis with the bold declaration “MLS has some points (at least from their point of view)”.

    I’m not familiar with you or your writing so I will hold off on pronouncing judgement until I collect a larger sample size. But I would hope you would take the time to at least read the supporter websites (along with brushing up on trademark law and usage) before you attempt to add your voice to the myriad currently discussing this issue online.

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