Why are the Trail Blazers Not Sending TV or Radio Broadcasters to Road Games?
Making sense of the latest developments in the Blazers media world.
Along with every other team in the NBA, the Trail Blazers announced their 2022-23 regular-season schedule on Wednesday. All but one of their 82 games will be broadcast on ROOT Sports; the one TNT game that won't be broadcast on ROOT is a home game, meaning all 41 of their road games will use their local broadcast team. And at least to start the year, the Blazers' television and radio broadcast teams will not travel and will instead call games remotely.
I had heard whispers of this being a possibility dating back a couple months, but Dwight Jaynes and Chad Doing discussed it on Wednesday on their Rip City Drive show on KPOJ-AM, the team's official radio broadcast affiliate. (The segment begins around the 23-minute mark here if you want to listen to the whole thing.)
ICYMI: @dwightjaynes & @Cha@ChadinRipCitynd out the Blazers will reportedly NOT be sending their TV & Radio crews w/ the team on the road.
What do you think, #RipCity#RipCity//
— Rip City Radio 620 (@RipCityRadio620)
Aug 18, 2022
"We haven’t made a permanent decision either way on traveling our broadcast teams," Blazers president of business operations Dewayne Hankins said via email on Thursday evening. "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.
"I’ve asked our crew to be an industry leader in producing a next-gen broadcast and we think that’s in the areas of statistics, data visualization, behind-the-scenes access and hiring talent to help better explain what happens on and off the court."
During the NBA's Disney World bubble in the summer of 2020, I wrote a feature for Bleacher Report talking to numerous team broadcasters from around the league, including Blazers color analyst Lamar Hurd and sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam, about the difficulty of calling games remotely. Being able to notice things in the arena that aren't captured on camera is crucial to the job. So is being around the team outside of game nights to be able to have private conversations with players and coaches to help give background and context for the stories they share on the air.
Olzendam, Hurd, play-by-play man Kevin Calabro and radio announcer Travis Demers are all terrific broadcasters, four of the best in the league at their respective positions. They'll do the best they can under these circumstances, just as everybody did during the height of COVID when no one was traveling. But there's no way to argue that the quality of the game broadcasts won't suffer if they can't do their jobs to the fullest.
In the last two full seasons, many teams cut back on travel for their broadcast teams as a safety measure during the height of the pandemic. But to my knowledge and from asking around in other markets, the Blazers are the only team currently planning to do this, at least on the television side, this coming season. Not that other teams doing the same thing would make it more defensible, but the Blazers being the only one of 30 teams making their broadcasters call games from home is glaring.
This news comes on the heels of the Blazers' first season under a new local broadcast rights contract after switching from the now-defunct NBC Sports Northwest to ROOT Sports last summer. Throughout the year, there were widespread complaints from fans about the channel not being available on some of the most widely-used streaming platforms, such as YouTube TV, Sling and Hulu. As of this writing, fuboTV and a new platform called Evoca are the only streaming services that carry ROOT Sports. And now, even the fans that do have access to the channel will be forced to watch a compromised version of the Blazers' broadcast for 41 games of the year.
Even purely as a cost-cutting measure, this move doesn't make much sense. Broadcasters fly on the team's chartered plane (no extra airfare) and stay at the team hotel on the road. Over the course of the season, the Blazers are saving at most a couple million dollars on hotel and meal per-diem costs for a handful of broadcasters and crew members, which is a drop in the bucket for a professional sports organization. The end result is that the fans who pay for cable or streaming packages to watch the team will get an inferior TV product.
The only logical explanation for this kind of move is that the organization is in the process of cleaning up its books ahead of a potential sale…but owner Jody Allen's official, publicly stated position is that the Blazers are not for sale.