Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson plans to sell the NWSL club, he announced Thursday. But he plans to maintain control of his MLS team, the Portland Timbers.
Paulson, 49, has held the reins for the Thorns since the founding of the team and the league. Paulson and the Thorns’ front office, though, found themselves at the center of the NWSL abuse scandal in the wake of the Sally Yates report released in October.
When coach Paul Riley was fired by the Thorns in 2015 after sexual harassment and coercion allegations, Paulson kept the reason for his dismissal under wraps publicly, which allowed Riley to continue coaching in the league. Riley’s misconduct, and the Thorns’ role in allowing him to continue coaching, made up a significant part of the findings of the U.S. Soccer-commissioned investigation.
Paulson stepped down as CEO of the Thorns and the Timbers in October, and he already has been involved in talks to sell the NWSL club, Portland alternative newspaper Willamette Week reported last week.
“I believe it is 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 said in a statement. “This has been a difficult decision for me, but I believe this is the best way to position the Thorns for continued success during this next chapter of the NWSL and the sport.”
He also pledged $1 million toward the establishment of a new NWSL player safety office.
Announcement of decision to sell Portland Thorns FC. #BAONPDX— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) December 1, 2022
Announcement of decision to sell Portland Thorns FC. #BAONPDX
Paulson and his father Hank established holding company Peregrine Sports, which controls majority ownership of both the Thorns and Timbers as well as the lease of Providence Park, the home field for both teams. Paulson serves as the minority owner of Peregrine Sports, his father as the majority owner.
Paulson has not provided a timeline for the sales process. There also is no official valuation for the franchise, but ESPN reported a $60 million valuation early Thursday, and The Oregonian backed up that figure.
Several parties already have expressed interest in purchasing the majority stake in the Thorns, who just won their third NWSL title. However, the new majority owner would need to partner with Paulson and the Timbers’ ownership group for the use of Providence Park.
Fan groups for both the Thorns and the Timbers have increased their calls for Paulson to sell his stakes in both clubs.
“If he’s unfit to own one team, why should he be fit to own the other?” said Gabby Rosas, president of the 107 Independent Supporters Trust, a nonprofit that represents the Rose City Riveters and Timbers Army. “You can’t tell me that one half of the club is broken and the other is fine.”
The MLS commissioner, however, said in early November that Paulson doesn’t have “any reason at all” to sell the Timbers.
“An ownership change with the Thorns will not impact Peregrine Sports’ ownership of the Timbers, and we will be a key partner to the new Thorns ownership group,” Paulson said in his statement.