The power of social media. It can inform us, distract us, humor us, bind us, and in some cases, transport us. Literally transport us.
On Portland Timbers matchdays, the #RCTID hashtag is awash with game updates and news from @TimbersFC, thoughts and chatter from fans, discussion of who’s doing what, and more. It can also become a truly unique community of generosity from Timbers Army supporters. One person can drop a good idea or call for help with the addition of #RCTID to the message and hundreds of people often heed the call.
Last weekend, for the first leg of the Timbers' 2013 MLS Cup Playoff Western Conference Semifinal against the Seattle Sounders, Twitter and #RCTID helped serve as just such a connector.
Josh Whisenhunt, social media manager for MLSsoccer.com, was sent to cover the massive playoff match between Portland and Seattle. Flying out early from New York on Saturday morning, Whisenhunt’s plane came across some very strong turbulence kicked up by the incredibly windy conditions that morning in Seattle. Gusts reached 50 mph in some areas and there were a few reports of power outages across the city.
On the plane, the crew informed the passengers to prepare for a bumpy landing. As Whisenhunt put it, “The whole time, I was like, 'This is fine, we’re going to land.' But then we came down under the clouds and it was almost like we got sucked back into them. We got rocked. I’ve never been a plane that got jolted as much as that happened, so that started to freak everybody out.”
The plane continued to descend in white knuckle-like conditions but moments away from touching down on the runway, the pilot accelerated the jet back up into the air and diverted it away to Portland--the exact opposite direction of the massive playoff match.
Knowing that hundreds of Timbers fans were preparing to head north for the game, Whisenhunt’s social media gears started turning. As soon as they safely touched down at sunlit Portland International Airport, Whisenhunt sent out this Tweet from his own personal account.
And while he waited for updates from the plane crew on what was going happen next, his phone started to light up with re-tweets and replies from Timbers Army fans.
“It was pretty much immediate,” he said. “Timbers fans just jumped into gear.”
Across town, the Timbers Army 107 Independent Supporters Trust had organized a trio of buses and a virtual convoy of carpoolers to meet up at the Moda Center before heading north. 107ist board member Sherrilyn "Sheba" Rawson helped tweet out the Whisenhunt's call for help.
In a big car rented special for the occasion, Sierra Perryman and her husband Patch--a matchday Timbers Army capo for the North End--along with another couple in John and Lindsay Nyen spied the tweet and happened to be close to the airport as they had just begun their journey. They tweeted back at Josh.
Still not certain that the plane he was still sitting in on the PDX tarmac wasn't yet going to take off, Whisenhunt was coming around to the conclusion that he needed to get off if he was going to make it to the match.
"[The pilot] kept saying, 'This plane is not getting off the ground until I hear that it is nice in Seattle. Not that it’s okay there, no, not until it’s nice,'" said Whisenhunt. "And I’m thinking, 'That could be forever,' so this car thing is going to have to work out."
Whisenhunt managed to talk his way off the plane and run down to the arrivals pickup just as Patch and his crew pulled up. Whisenhunt liked them immediately.
“They were all very kind people and you could tell that and it was just one of those things where someone wants to help out someone else and so immediately, you’re kind of friends," he said. "They got out of the car and we shook hands and I was like, 'Let’s just hug.'"
Given that this was Whisenhunt’s first visit to Portland—albeit an unexpected one—the Timbers Army faithful proceeded to give him a full indoctrination on all things Portland and soccer but with an eye towards the connection between the club and their unique supporters' culture.
“It was more about the crew and the organization and the community that the Timbers have fostered than 'How’s Porter going to get Nagbe upfield,'" said Whisenhunt. "We didn’t talk about the game at all.”
Once the car arrived in Seattle, they kindly dropped Whisenhunt off at the CenturyLink Field so he could prepare to cover the match. As an MLSsoccer.com writer, he had to provide social media coverage of both the Portland and Seattle sides of the battle.
But the unique supporter-powered social media way he arrived at the match was one he says he’ll definitely remember.
“The whole time going up, it took me back to my high school days and going to an away game and seeing your friends and other families waving to each other as you drive,” said Whisenhunt. “We passed so many Timbers fans on the way to Seattle and it was just so cool because I didn’t know any of these people but we’d pull up next to someone and Patch and the whole crew would be so stoked to see them and I was able to share in that a little bit even though I had no idea who these other people were. It was awesome. The whole ride was awesome.”