Investor group to formally submit bid for NWSL’s Portland Thorns


An investor group led by former Nike executive Melanie Strong is set to submit a formal offer Portland Thorns Sources told ESPN that owner Merritt Paulson is making a bid to acquire a majority stake in the NWSL team with a valuation of $60 million.

The two sides have held several meetings in the last two months, and the proposal is expected to be submitted within the next week.

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A source said Strong’s group is confident that securing enough capital will not be a problem. The all-women investor group comprises about 30 people, including six investors in the core group.

Sources confirmed that Strong’s group is also collaborating with a fan-led investor group led by local tech entrepreneur Chris Bright, and has “zero interest” in moving the team out of Portland.

Arctos Sports Partners acquired a 15% stake in the Timbers and Thorns organization in 2021.

Paulson was under pressure to sell both Thorne and the Portland Timbers since MLS Allegations of sexual harassment and coercion were made against former Thorns manager Paul Riley, for which he was fired for cause in 2015.

That pressure – both from fans and sponsors – led to an increase in followers. release of the Yates Report, which detailed systemic sexual and emotional abuse throughout the league. In addition to the allegations leveled against Riley, the report detailed how the Portland organization sought to keep quiet the reasons for Riley’s departure.

A source with knowledge of the discussions indicated that the currently proposed deal is to acquire Kants only, a detail that was first reported by willamette week, While Strong’s group is also open to discussing an acquisition of the Timbers, sources tell ESPN that Paulson intends to retain the MLS team.

Given the number of shared resources between the two teams, from ticketing to support staff, acquiring only one team could complicate any potential deal, though it could also have advantages.

By building a leadership team that is exclusive to the Kante, the expectation is that from a sponsorship standpoint, from a fan experience standpoint, from the broadcast rights, the Kante can maximize those aspects to the greatest extent if they can. were still associated. Timber.

Strong’s group is proposing a hybrid model by which a third of the staff would be shared between the two teams.

The source added that one of the group’s biggest priorities is “to do the right thing by the players. So creating an environment and a structure and an organization where sexual abuse can’t happen, where there’s safety, where there’s value alignment, how to protect players from experiencing any of them.”

But Strong’s group is walking a fine line in the talks. Paulson is eager to try and rehabilitate her legacy as it pertains to women’s soccer, noting that the Thorns have been a part of the NWSL since the league’s inception in 2013, and that Paulson has been instrumental in providing financial stability for the league over the years. have been helpful.

Despite fans demanding Paulson sell one or both teams, he is not required to sell. This may change once the results of the NWSL/NWSL Players Association joint investigation are out, which is expected in late 2022.

But, for the time being, there is little in the way of internal pressure from the NWSL or MLS to force Paulson’s hand.

Prior to the MLS Cup, MLS commissioner Don Garber said, “At this time, we see no reason for Merritt to sell the Timbers.”

“Nothing came out of [Yates] Report that will make you think differently from what I have just said.”

The amount of money it will take to complete a deal depends on what is involved. One source said that Strong’s group’s bid would go beyond just operating rights, and would include other aspects such as media rights, other values ​​that the stadium receives, and additional intangibles.

There’s a sense that not including these items would lower the purchase price — good for buyers — but not as strategically desirable as otherwise those aspects would remain exclusively with Timbers.

Strong’s group does not want to be a tenant of the Timbers within Providence Park. The City of Portland owns the venue, with Peregrine Sports leasing the venue from the city.

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