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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.

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