The Thorns finally had a home game, and it was quite the day. The 3-0 win kicked off the introduction of the “Nat-free Thorns” to the home faithful in high style. But the fun started before the first whistle.
The stadium update is pretty impressive. Aside from the obvious new stand, there were updates throughout the place. The Riveters participated, along with the Timbers Army, in decorating the North End. Two tunnels were painted with iconic imagery. The production involved some tricky tracing work on the rough walls with their triangular shape. Then several sessions of detailed painting followed. The end result is a point of pride for both supporter groups. They’re also nice backdrops for a selfie.
The Riveters displayed an Alice In Wonderland/Ska themed tifo. The main panel, “Welcome Back to the Madness” depicts the Mad Hatter with red smoke billowing from his teacup. His hat size, 7-1/2, refers to the age of the Thorns as well as nodding to the original book where Alice declares that she is “seven and one-half years old, exactly”. The other figure, the Cheshire Cat with two stars for eyes, fills out the panel along with checkerboards which harken back to the ska-based Madness display opening season four from whence the “One Goal Beyond” chant.
Three playing cards are, left to right, the Queen of Diamonds with a ska-style rabbit wearing welder’s goggles (reminiscent of the Bonfire tifos from last season) and holding a watch set to 1:07; the Joker with a representation of the new stadium with roses containing faces — the masks found in the plazas; and the Queen of Clubs with three card-gardeners spray-painting roses red.
Since the home opener was so late the Riveters had lots of time to produce the tifo, for a change. These panels were painted in March and then the long wait began.
There were updates to the chants, and a new one, for this season. Due to a first-day communication snafu, the chant sheets were not available prematch. The updates will be introduced at the next home game. In the meantime, you can study the chants at home. The Riveters have updated their website (isn’t it pretty?) and the sheets can be found here.
Attendance was excellent – a home-opening record at 19,461. The club management has publicly stated their desire to have at least one sellout this season. If it happens, it would break the Orlando Pride’s league record of 23,403 by a fair margin.
The NWSL needed to have a Thorns home match. Removing Portland, league attendance is up 3.8% over the same number of matches in 2018, up 7.2% over the 2018 full season average. However, all of this increase came from one match – the Chicago Red Stars home opener which was a double-header with the MLS Chicago Fire. The inflated number from that match was 12,967. If we reduce that to the Red Stars average standalone attendance, then the league total is down 3.5%.
Three teams have posted increased attendance so far: Utah up an encouraging 18.7% (recall last year they had a big debut match), NC Courage up 16.2% (finally seeing a payoff from their great play?), and the aforementioned Red Stars up 4.2%. All the other teams are down, most notably Sky Blue (-32.1%) and Washington Spirit (-25.5%). The last two years have seen declining attendance at MLS-affiliated sides Houston Dash and Orlando Pride. In 2019, their losses have slowed to a trickle – off 2.2% and 2.7% respectively. Perhaps both teams are reduced to a stable block of their core supporters, but Orlando’s are surely being tested by the dire football their side is playing. Tacoma is settling into their new home, with attendance almost equal to when they played in downtown Seattle.
Now that Portland has entered the fray, and with expanded capacity, league attendance overall is rebounding — up 5.0% over 2018, counting Sunday’s match. With a likely World Cup bounce to come, and if Washington can get their numbers up to match their likely good results, this should be a fine year overall for the league. Sky Blue, however, remains a perpetual worry.
Our next home match is the Utah Royals on June 21 at 8:00pm. That’s a Friday night, and it will also be Riveters Pride Night. Expect lots of color and noise.