Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson announced today that the club is for sale.
“I believe it is in best interest of the Thorns to have a new owner so that the Club can operate at the league level with a fresh voice to be a driving force for the NWSL,” Paulson said in a statement released by the Thorns. “This has been a difficult decision for me, but I believe this is the best way to position the Thorns for continued success during this next chapter of the NWSL and the sport.”
As part of the sale, Paulson will also be pledging $1 million to help establish the NWSL Player Safety Office.
In statement, NWSL President Jessica Berman stated her support for the sale. “I support Merritt Paulson’s decision to sell the Thorns, his commitment to aid in a smooth transition for a new ownership group in Portland, and the $1M contribution to the league,” Berman said.
“The Thorns, its players, its dedicated fanbase and the entire Portland community have played a key role in our league’s first decade and are critically important to the future success of the NWSL. We will continue to work collaboratively to ensure the players and the club have everything they need to be successful on and off the pitch.”
This announcement comes after a bevy of off-field controversy and revelations around how Paulson’s executive team enabled Paul Riley, the former Thorns coach who is facing sexual misconduct allegations from multiple former players. The biggest of those revelations came in October’s bombshell release of the Sally Yates led U.S. Soccer investigation into misconduct and abuse in the NWSL.
In the wake of that report, former Timbers and Thorns president of business Mike Golub and former Timbers general manager & president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson were fired. Paulson himself then stepped down as CEO of both the Thorns and Portland Timbers.
In relation to the investigations, Paulson shared in the statement, “The past year has been a challenging one for our Club and our players. I regret the role our organization played in the failures identified by the investigations.”
And so, Paulson’s decade-long tenure at the top of the Thorns will be ending.
His ownership of the Timbers, however, will not be ending.
“An ownership change with the Thorns will not impact Peregrine Sports’ ownership of the Timbers,” Paulson shared. “[A]nd we will be a key partner to the new Thorns ownership group, as we believe the team should continue to call Providence Park its home.”
For as long as the Thorns have existed, they have been under the PTFC umbrella and viewed as one club with the Timbers. Both teams have played in Providence Park, and there was a close relationship between the two clubs to the point where to supporters and the city of Portland they were seen as inextricably linked.
Now, they are being split up.
Many view the splitting of the clubs and sale of solely the Thorns as an insufficient measure that only shows half-accountability, and also as one that potentially jeopardizes the long-term viability of the club and puts its future in the city of Portland at potential risk.
107IST, the Timbers Army, and the Rose City Riveters released a joint statement in the wake of the release of the Yates report calling for the sale of both the Timbers and Thorns. They reiterated that stance after Paulson stepped down as CEO for the clubs, and in a statement provided to Ryan Clarke of The Oregonian/OregonLive they reiterated that stance once again.
“As long as Merritt Paulson is an owner with a financial stake in EITHER club he is still in an unacceptable position of power and control,” the 107IST shared. “We continue to call for the sale of BOTH teams and for the sale, divestment, or removal of interest/control from all professional, development, and youth soccer leagues by Peregrine Sports.”
That 107IST put out an official statement on twitter later in the day, restating their position.
A joint statement regarding the intention to sell the Thorns and split the club.#BAONPDX #RCTID #CutTheRotOut #OneClub pic.twitter.com/PimJdRDyuK— 107ist (@107ist) December 1, 2022
In that same article by the O, Clarke got Paulson’s full thoughts on the sale, and the justification of his continued ownership of the Timbers. “These are two different leagues, and I don’t have a diminished ability to be a loud voice at the league level in Major League Soccer,” Paulson shared with Clarke.
“I think it’s 100% the best thing for the Thorns that I continue to own and operate the Timbers, and I’ll be in a position to set the Thorns up for success much more so than if they were unbundled and both sold separately. They will not be.”
The article outlines as well that Providence Park will be rented out by Peregrine Sports — the LLC founded by Paulson and his father Hank that operates the stadium as well as the Timbers and Thorns — to the Thorns and the new ownership for home games once the sale is completed. Additionally, sources told The Oregonian/OregonLive that Paulson is seeking upwards of $60 million for the sale of the Thorns.
No timetable was given for the sale, and it is unknown how long this process may take or whether it will stretch into the start of the 2023 NWSL season. It is also unknown how the sale will impact current Thorns technical and business operations staff, which will fall under the umbrella of the new ownership group.
What we do know is this: the Thorns are for sale. And the city of Portland is bracing for what comes next.
You can read the full statement from Paulson and the Thorns here, and also read the full story and interview with Paulson from Ryan Clarke and The Oregonian/OregonLive here.