Paulson to Sell Thorns, Keep Timbers

Craig Mitchelldyer
Providence Park soccer stadium in Portland

Paulson, who stepped down as the CEO of both teams in October, faces two prospective bidders for the women’s soccer team

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Merritt Paulson, owner of the Portland Thorns and Timbers football clubs announced Thursday morning that he plans to sell the Portland Thorns.

Paulson said he would not relinquish ownership of the Portland Timbers and that Peregrine Sports, the company he co-owns that currently owns the Timbers, will be a “key partner” to the new Thorns ownership group.

In the announcement, Paulson said it would be “in the 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 stepped down as CEO of the teams Oct. 11 in the wake of sexual abuse and coverup scandal involving former Thorns coach Paul Riley.

In September 2021, more than a dozen players accused Riley — who coached the Thorns during the 2014-15 season — of sexual abuse and coercion. The accusers included two former Thorns players.

Shortly before Paulson’s resignation as CEO, the United States Soccer Federation released a report detailing Paulson’s role in covering up the abuse and encouraging other teams in the league to hire Riley.

The 2021 revelations sparked protests at Providence Park, which continued this season, particularly following the release of the USSF report this fall. The latter also drew criticism from public figures, including Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who said that anyone who “knowingly covers up allegations of sexual abuse should have no role in professional soccer.”

The report also prompted the teams’ two fan clubs, the Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters, to formally demand Paulson sell both teams.

In October The Oregonian named two prospective buyers for the Thorns: a group of women led by former Nike executive named Melanie Strong, and a group of fans called Onward Rose City that says it has, so far, raised $9.3 million to buy the Thorns. Last week Willamette Week reported that Peregrine Sports is asking somewhere between $30 and $50 million for the team; on Thursday the newspaper quoted an anonymous source saying Paulson is seeking $60 million.

“I am fully committed to doing all that is necessary to ensure a smooth transition and the continued success of the Thorns, including providing favorable usage terms for Providence Park that will enable the Thorns to continue to capitalize on their popularity in Portland,” Paulson said in Thursday’s statement. “Additionally, in evaluating the new owner we want to be certain that our ongoing efforts to secure a top-flight training facility continues for the team.”

Paulson also pledged $1 million toward a NWSL-led effort to establish a player safety office.

“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,” NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement issued shortly after Paulson’s Thursday announcement. “This money will be used to launch a new NWSL Player Safety Department – coming out of this chapter in the NWSL’s history we will emerge stronger than ever before and make this a league the players are proud to play in. 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.”

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