Evanson: Blazers latest decision may be a small sign of bigger problems to come
Moneyball has come to Oregon.
This past week the Portland Trail Blazers organization reportedly planned to forgo sending their television and radio broadcast teams on the road with the team, choosing rather to keep said broadcasters at home to do the games from the comfort of a studio hundreds — and in most cases thousands — of miles from the action they're paid to describe to the millions of fans who lean on their description.
The news came as a surprise to most and with the predictable level of disdain a pre-teen could've seen coming. But while Little-Leaguers may have at least a semblance of a grasp on the wants and needs of a professional sports fanbase, the Blazers organization has again managed to prove it's operating with it's head buried at an impressive and unfathomable depth beneath the sand.
Since, after a handful of days and countless expressions of frustration from fans of the team, Blazers President of Business Operations Dewayne Hankins announced Aug. 22 that the team is going to travel the broadcasters, citing "... We would never want to do anything that was viewed, as this was, as something that was negative to the fan experience. That's not something we do..."
Great, but who does this to begin with? I'll tell you who, no one. Per Dwight Jaynes of Rip City Radio 620, the Trail Blazers were the only team in the league scheduled to take such a measure. Which would've either made them groundbreakers or the laughing stock of a 30-team league making money hand over fist.
In October of last year, Forbes Magazine reported the Blazers' value at $2.05 billion. As part of their valuation, they cited the team's popularity in living rooms across the country.
"Eight consecutive seasons in the playoffs have made the Trail Blazers among the most popular teams on television," they said.
Ten months later, gone is their postseason streak, and too would've their popularity if they had followed through with what could only have been described as a cost-saving experiment.
Prior to Hankins' Aug. 22 announcement the team had yet to officially commit to the idea.
"We haven't made a permanent decision either way on traveling our broadcast teams," Blazers president of business operations Dewayne Hankins said to Blazers Edge via email Aug. 18. "We plan to incorporate all the lessons we've learned through doing remote broadcasts during COVID-19 over the last two years and see if we can't be more efficient as we look to invest in other areas to improve our broadcast. If we decide not to travel and we think there's a loss of quality for the fan or in our broadcast team's ability to do their job, we'll react accordingly."
But what more did they hope to learn opposed to what was evident two years ago as the result of the pandemic?
Broadcasters across numerous platforms did then what the Trail Blazers planned to do now, and as a result came to appreciate what did and didn't work.
ESPN's Mike Breen spoke to the inadequacies of the exercise, select MLB announcers have communicated their dislike for the practice, and Bob Rathbun who calls Atlanta Hawks games for Fox Sports Southeast too believes calling games remotely compromises the viewing/listening experience.
"If our guy on camera doesn't show what we need to see, then we can't see it," Rathbun said in the wake of calling games remotely during the pandemic. "So, we're kind of piecing it together as we go, and it can sometimes make for a disjointed telecast. We know we can do better if we were there."
That may be obvious to people paying attention, but the Blazers again seemed to have taken their eye off the ball.
They didn't listen when they dismissed long-time fan favorite Bill Schonely in 1998, again in 2016 when they sent Mike Barrett and Mike Rice packing, and for at least a handful of days appeared to be suggesting less for the fans in the midst of the team making more.
The NBA is thriving. Last season the league exceeded $10 billion in revenue and basketball-related income reached $8.9 billion. Both are all-time records.
Portland's 2020-21 revenue — according to Statista — was $201 million, which puts them roughly in the middle of the NBA pack.
And this past season marked the 12th straight year with an annual increase in NBA value.
What did the team stand to save by grounding their broadcasting crews for road games in the 2022-23 season? It's hard to say for sure, but I assure you that whatever it may have been it wasn't the difference between making or losing money
What's next, reversible jerseys for the team?
Mass transit for players to and from road games?
Heck, why not buses for west coast road trips?
The Blazers have lost their way. Paul Allen's death should've marked the end of an otherwise successful era for a proud team and franchise, but instead it's marked the beginning of an embarrassing run of ineptitude rivaled only by the "Jail Blazers" two decades ago.
Jody Allen's disinterest in the team is now bleeding into the fan experience, and before long likely the team itself.
I can see it, you now can as well. How much longer until players like Damian Lillard connect the dots between a losing mindset off the court and an equally losing one on it? My guess isn't long. Players aren't stupid and neither are fans, but the Trail Blazers organization? They certainly don't look smart.
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