Timbers show they're eyeing massive scale in '11

Portland debut MLS kits in airport hangar

Timbers Jerseys on Runway

Photo Credit: 
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

PORTLAND, Ore. – Timbers officials eschew the term “expansion team.”

Portland’s soccer franchise may be new to Major League Soccer, but the Timbers brand already includes traditions, passionate fans and history that extends back 35 years.

As such, the team’s leadership is pointing forward with ambition. They are not content to be simply joining MLS. They want to set the standard – with the best stadium amenities, the most electric game atmosphere, the most passionate fans.

In short, the team is shooting for the moon. And Thursday’s “Runway on the Runway” event inside a 64,000-square foot Alaska Airlines hangar offered a glimpse of the scale the Timbers are striving for.

First, giant doors were opened to reveal a specially themed Boeing 737-700 featuring Timbers symbols and logos. Then, it rolled halfway into the hangar and a ramp was positioned to connect to a fashion show runway. Timbers players and Alaska Airlines employees modeled the new kits. Again, there was a surprise waiting. The team unveiled a new color to the team’s palate: two tones of red on the secondary (away) jerseys.

Mitchelldyer Photography

“I like it a lot,” said new defenseman Eric Brunner, who wore the red jersey on the catwalk. “It’s different. It’s a little bit like an Arsenal kit, a little bit of a Blackburn kit, but it’s our flavor. There’s a lot of details into it.”

“We are bringing world class design and innovation right here to our Portland Timbers with the launch of the team’s official uniform today,” said Antonio Zea, director of Soccer for adidas America.  “As the official partner of the MLS we create uniforms for all 18 teams but there is something special about designing the jersey for the team in our own backyard which, we believe, embodies the true spirit of Portland and Timber’s fans.”

The color and some of its detailing is intended to pay homage to Portland’s “Rose City” nickname. More importantly, the Timbers’ enthusiasm is rubbing off on one of their first major sponsors.

“This agreement is huge for us,” Alaska Airlines president Brad Tilden said. “It is by far the biggest sponsorship the company has ever done in almost 80 years of our history. Soccer is huge in Portland. Our employees are hugely into soccer. And we’re really excited about what the affiliation’s going to do for our company.”

The hangar used to host 1,000 fans, Alaska Airlines employees and media members on Thursday has been used for events before. Much, much smaller events.

“We’ve never done anything this big before,” Alaska Airlines staffer Bobbie Egan said.

The takeaway message is that the Timbers are aiming high and bringing others into their momentum. Timbers owner Merritt Paulson said the deal with Alaska Airlines marked another major step forward.

“It’s vital,” Paulson said of the shirt-sponsorship deal. “It’s the most intimate relationship you can have [with a company]. Their name is on your athlete’s chest.”

Alaska Airlines is a major carrier in the Northwest, with headquarters in Seattle. That last fact wasn’t lost on those presenting Thursday’s event.

“We’re going to pay for this in Seattle,” Tilden said during his opening remarks to the crowd. He was only half-joking.

Brian Costello (Portland Timbers) contributed to this report.