Why Merritt Paulson is not the worst owner in MLS

Colorado Rapids owner Stan Kroenke takes the cake

Cliff Pfenning
June 18, 2022

On Friday, USA Today published an opinion-based story that listed the worst owners in all the big sports - and Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson was on it. Timbers/Thorns owner Merritt Paulson.

He made it in part because he’s the flavor of the month in terms of bad publicity, and because of long-standing issues revolving around the Timbers Army and its progressive social agenda seeping into the flavor of each home match. Timbers Army and Thorns support group the Rose City Riveters.

But, Paulson isn’t the worst MLS/NWSL owner, and it’s not even close. That title goes to Colorado Rapids owner Stan Kroenke, and there’s a couple easy ways to determine that. First, there’s franchise value - $635 million for the Timbers, $370 million for the Rapids, according to info produced by the website Sportico last year.

Secondly, in spite of all the issues fans have with Paulson and his handling of the Timbers off-field challenges from the past year, and Thorns for issues dating back to 2015, the franchise staged a game last month in an effort to raise funds for UNICEF and its relief efforts for Ukraine. The event raised more than $600,000.

As much as people might hate on Paulson and PTFC as a franchise - both Timbers and Thorns - when he called on fans for support of a very worthy social issue, they showed up, big-time.

If Paulson were to decide to sell PTFC (the $635 million figure includes the Thorns), the Ukraine game would be the first way to showcase that despite fan displeasure and decreased attendance for both squads, the franchise has not lost its hold on its fans. Portland fans might be unhappy, but it still is Soccer City, USA, and Paulson’s actually been a big part of building that across the past 15 years for both the Timbers and Thorns, who he started in 2013 as a charter member of the NWSL.

Now then, let's hate on Kroenke for just a second or two.

In addition to having owned the Rapids since 2003, Kroenke also owns Arsenal of the English Premier League - one of the Big Six of English soccer, so he’s got soccer influence, at least he should. But he doesn’t seem to care about either team, and is known as “Silent Stan” for never attending matches on either side of the Atlantic. Most Arsenal fans hate him.

Kroenke also owns the Denver Nuggets of the NBA, Colorado Avalanche of the NHL, and Colorado Mammoth of the National Lacrosse League, as well as the Ball Center (formerly Pepsi Center) where those three teams play.

But, the team he seems to care about the most is, of course, in the NFL - the Los Angeles Rams. He puts all his energy into the Rams, having moved them back to LA from St. Louis in 2016, and his privately-financed SoFi Stadium, where the Super Bowl was held this year.

All that energy for the Rams has gone nowhere for the Rapids, who were dead last in the Sportico MLS rankings, even though that figure includes their ownership of their stadium, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park - which Kroenke financed in 2007, and the fact the team was atop the Western Conference standings last season.

In spite of their recent on-field success, the Rapids - one of the original 10 MLS clubs - rarely sell out their stadium, which has a capacity around 18,000. Their average is only 13,000 this year. Portland is above 22,000 per game this year, and its franchise value does not include ownership of its home stadium.

But, more into Kroenke is that his sporting empire also includes a regional cable network, but it does not provide free telecasts of home games for the Rapids as the Timbers have done this season.

And, there is not an NWSL team in Denver. Nor a WNBA team.

Kroenke is atop the list of crappy owners in MLS, largely because he just doesn’t seem to care about soccer.

Portland's most passionate fans can point to Paulson’s leadership of PTFC as including some questionable decisions, but he certainly isn’t in the arena of ‘doesn’t care.’ The Ukraine Game and 2021 valuation of the team proves that.

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Cliff Pfenning

Cliff is the publisher of Oregonsports.com, and has decades of experience in writing, photography, videography and graphic design. He's been a sportswriter in Oregon for more than three decades and has even taught sports broadcasting in Portland. He lives in North Portland in a house built in 1912 that has a backyard deck easily turned into a 'Top Golf' set-up for wiffle golf balls ... and cornhole.