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A tale of two cities: How the Sounders' rivalry campaign inadvertently united two Portlands

How the Sounders rivalry campaign backfired

MLS: Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

For the 100th edition of the perennial Portland-Seattle soccer rivalry, the Portland Timbers released video in the style of Ken Burns simply titled ‘The Rivalry’. If you’ve somehow been living under a rock since early May, or just fancy revisiting it with last weekend’s win still fresh and sweet, here it is all of its glory.

‘The Rivalry’ was the latest in a series of mockumentary videos that began with last year’s clapback to the LA Galaxy’s ‘Shooting Stars’ meme and continued with the Timber Joey wildlife bit before this season’s home opener. It even got a shoutout from Ken Burns himself.

This context is important because it’s safe to say that the Timbers’ media team has been killing it this past year.

In contrast, the Seattle Sounders’ response in the lead up to this past weekend’s game was, well, underwhelming to say the least. If you missed it, they purchased a billboard in downtown Portland and coupled it with a pretty extensive web campaign all about how Seattle loves... Portland, Maine.

To be blunt, I didn’t really get it. What exactly was the point here? Did the Sounders think we were going to get jealous because our hated rivals were having an affair with another city of the same name? That’s like being bitter after a breakup and dating a new person with your ex’s name. Your ex doesn’t care; you just look sad, lonely, and pathetic.

Yes, I know the connection was through Roger Levesque, because he's from there. But is that really the best Seattle could do? A minor bit of trivia that nobody knew about a player that hasn't been relevant in years?

Also, as Stumptown Footy’s own Katelyn Best pointed out to me, the Sounders repeatedly reference Portland, Maine, as “the first Portland”, but it’s not. Portland, Maine was named after the English Isle of Portland. Apparently the Sounders don’t know basic facts about their new city-love-interest. I bet they don’t even known its birthday.

As Jim Patrick, social media editor for the Portland Press Herald said, “The Sounders don’t love Maine. They’re using us as a pawn to troll Oregon.” That was part of his decision to respond from the Press Herald twitter account.

Patrick’s initial reaction to Seattle’s campaign was also less-than-impressed. “When I saw that campaign on Twitter, I rolled my eyes,” he said. “Nothing against Seattle at all. I have two super-cute godchildren there and it’s a fine town, but this campaign was a step too far. There’s no rivalry between Portlands. I’ve been to Portland, Oregon, four times and have met the coolest people, eaten some excellent food and drank some excellent beer. It’s really been a special town for me. So it’s personal for me for somebody to be using Maine to get at Oregon.”

Of course, a twitter clap back from Portland, Maine’s paper of record was never going to be the end of this. RCTID twitter blew up in support of the Press Herald, especially after the Timbers retweeted their above tweet. Before long, Kayla Knapp, PTFC’s senior manager of social content and strategy, was in touch with Patrick and, as he told me, they “[exchanged] a few DMs about how fun this all was – it’s always fun when tweeting back and forth between big Twitter accounts – but I thought that was about it. The team sent a jersey and I was blown away by that. There was never any intention on our end of getting anything out of this. I know this is super corny, but I just love Portland.”

And then, the kicker came Saturday morning. The Timbers placed a full page ad on page A3 of the Press Herald.

Image courtesy of the Portland Timbers

Dear Portland, ME,
They tried to tear us apart.
It only strengthened our bond.
Portland forever.
All our Love,
Portland, OR

Patrick wanted to be clear that the idea for the ad didn’t come from the Press Herald. “This was simply just a case of the Timbers being awesome and doing something fun.” He also mentioned he has plans to visit Seattle over the fall, and that now he hopes to make it to a Timbers game while he’s in Cascadia.

“This whole thing worked because Kayla is great at her job. I tweet at large organizations all day and they never interact with us. I thought the ad was so appropriate. ‘We support Portland supporting Portland.’ That’s going to be framed next to my Timbers jersey.”

Oh, and then to add injury to insult, the Timbers didn’t just win this match off the field; they recorded their first MLS regular season win at CenturyLink Field, too.