On Saturday, we play the might Vikings of Portland State University. Portland State has always been somewhat of an enigma to me. Its a program that has so much potential, yet, for some reason, toils in the Big Sky Conference and struggles to draw more than 6,000 fans. Their basketball "arena," which is really just a gym in the Rec Center, holds 1,500 fans. I've always thought that Portland State had the potential to become Oregon's "third team" if you will. They will never be as big as Oregon or Oregon State, but why can't they be everyone's second favorite team?
Part of it is the Oregon/Oregon State factor. Most Portland collegiate fans already bleed green and yellow or orange and black. However, most of them can't afford the time/money to buy season tickets to watch their team. However, one could buy tickets to Portland State games for much cheaper, and for those in the metro area, it would only be a 20 minute drive or MAX ride to PGE Park. I think that Portland State could do much better, especially if they scheduled lots of Thursday type games.
Being 1-AA also hinders the process, for two reasons. One is simply advertising budgets. Portland State just does not have the advertising budget to convince the city that this could be "their team." Short of a few newspaper ads, you never see Portland State athletics branding itself. Unless you are a Portland State alumni, you might not even know that they exist.
The other thing about being 1-AA that I believe hinders the process is the fact that Portland sees itself as a major league town that has been spurned by the major leagues. Oregon and Oregon State are major league--Portland State is minor league. I think that if Portland State were to move up to 1-A, the result would be tremendous. The major problem, of course, is that you have to average 15,000 fans to move up to 1-A. However, with the right marketing campaigning (and maybe winning a conference championship or two) there is no reason that they cannot achieve that.
Finally, the biggest reason that I hear for Portland State's attendance woes are the nature of the student that attends PSU. Unlike UO and OSU, PSU is not a residential school, but a commuter school. This means two things: lack of building a community, and a lot of "non-traditional" students who are too busy with their real lives to go to a football game. However, Portland State should look to Boise State and Fresno State as their examples. Both of those are schools that are much more like Portland State than are Big Sky schools like Eastern Washington and Montana State. Boise State and Fresno State have managed to build successful sports programs despite their "commuter-school" status. Much of it just seems to be about having a will to start building a tradition there. If you build it, they will come.
Ultimately, I believe that this should be Portland State's goal. Portland State does not belong in the Big Sky, but in the WAC with other schools of its stature. There is enough room in the hearts of Portland sports fans for another college team. The question that Portland State needs to ask itself: do we want to be that team? And I guess that a rich booster couldn't hurt, either.