It has been a season of change for the Trail Blazers, both on and off the court. The upgrades to the roster seem to be paying dividends early, as the team currently has one of the best records in the NBA and is playing a brand of basketball that is more exciting than what we’ve seen in recent years.
And while the off court changes don’t rival the excitement of an overtime victory against the Raptors or a come-from-behind win in Brooklyn, there are changes, some interesting, others mundane, being considered that Trail Blazers fans that are worth reviewing.
So here are some details provided by Dewayne Hankins, Trail Blazers Vice President of Marketing and Digital, about a number of potential changes and upgrades the team is considering, including changes to the team uniform and court. Keep in mind that many of these discussions taking place are exploratory in nature and are in no way guaranteed to occur for any number of reasons, be it feedback from fans to general infeasibility.
· It was recently reported on Blazersedge.com that the team sent out a survey to gauge fan response regarding potentially changing the team’s uniforms. If the team does decide to tweak the jerseys, it will be just that, a tweak, as the team has already heard from fans that a drastic departure from their current uniforms would be frowned upon. And of course, it’s possible that no changes are made.
“We honestly don’t know to what extent we’ll make changes at this point if any,” Hankins wrote in an email. “We just want to gauge the temperature of the fans for these kinds of changes … We’ve had the same uniforms for more than a decade so it is at least worth asking the question. What we do know from the research we’ve already done, is that we have a pretty good thing going here and the fans don’t want to see a drastic departure from the current look.”
One possibility is that the team will look to a more retro feel, as preliminary feedback has been positive regarding throwback uniforms. Moving away from the tradition red, black and white colors the team has used since its founding unlikely, but Hankins notes that at this stage in the process, nothing is even close to decided.
“The idea of vintage uniforms is a popular look around the NBA,” wrote Hankins. “In fact, we are blessed as an organization to have so many good uniforms in our past to look at as inspiration and much of the feedback we’ve seen so far indicates that fans would like us to at least look in that direction. While we haven’t even started the process of imagining what new uniforms will look like and won’t until we get results back from this most recent survey, you can guarantee that we will make the fan’s voices a part of the process.”
· Chris Haynes at CSNNW reported a few weeks back that the team is looking at potentially moving away from replacing the one tone court the team currently has with a two tone court used by various teams around the NBA. Hankins said that there will in fact be a new court but that the color scheme may remain the same.
“The court is need of replacement since it’s reached the end of its life,” Hankins wrote. “It has been reported that we’re looking at the two-tone court, but we’re also looking at the possibility of a one-tone court.”
But there’s also other interesting court aesthetics being considered, including wood products that are native to Oregon and sustainably harvested.
“Again, at this point we haven’t reached the design phase on this but from a foundational standpoint, I can tell you that we want to make sure that there’s a story behind the wood that we choose for the court that’s unique to Oregon,” wrote Hankins. “For instance, it makes sense for the Moda Center, in all of its LEED Gold-Certified glory, to look at FSC certified wood and, potentially, use trees that are unique to Oregon. That’s important to people here and we want the court to reflect a story that goes beyond the design on the court.”
A new court made out of trees like Douglas Fir, Oregon White Oak or Bigleaf Maple? It’s at least being considered.
· As for the Pinwheel, the team’s primary logo which was designed by the cousin of Harry Glickman, one of the founders of the team, Hankins says there are no plans to make any changes noting that it is “one of the most recognizable logos in all of sports and has stood the test of time for more than 40 years.” However, the team is considering changes to what Hankins describes as the “parallelogram-shaped mark” seen here that is technically the Trail Blazers’ primary mark, though you probably wouldn’t know it by how infrequently it gets used.
“It doesn’t have many practical applications and not one you see us use very often,” said Hankins via email. “We’d love to have other ‘go-to’ marks to add to our arsenal, but only if they make sense.”
· The team added multiple local food options at the Moda Center this season, including Portland-grown restaurants such as Fire On The Mountain wings, Bunk Sandwiches and Killer Burger. Those changes, as well as changes made to the existing concessions, have gone over well thus far on game nights.
“Based on our brand audit and all of the questions we’ve asked of fans, they wanted the arena and the games to feel more like Portland and Oregon,” wrote Hankins. “There really isn’t an easier way to do that than to provide them with the great food of Portland in the arena. All of the credit has to go to Chris McGowan, Chris Oxley and Levy Restaurants, whose our new arena concessionaire, to get creative and make this happen with local food vendors. However, even in concession stands that don’t carry the names of familiar Portland restaurants, we’ve made a concerted effort to re-brand those and up the game at what we provide there as well. If you walk around the concourse in the Moda Center, you’ll definitely notice a new look and feel across all of our stands.”
As for the changing of the 100-point promotion from Taco Bell chalupas to McDonald’s McMuffins, Hankins says the reluctance of fans (if that’s what it actually is) to chant something other than “CHA-LU-PA” has not been unexpected.
“We knew that after 14 years of chanting the same thing, something that was created by the fans, there would be resistance to chanting something new,” wrote Hankins.
· When it comes to the in-arena experience during games, which has been more subdued in an effort to make sure the focus is on the on-court product, Hankins said the changes have been generally well-received and were made, again, at the behest of fans via the expansive brand survey the team conducted before the start of the season.
“I’m glad people are noticing the changes in our in-game entertainment,” wrote Hankins. “We’ve made a concerted effort to focus more on the basketball and less on the ‘everything else’ that we were doing that took your eyes off the product on the court. I think the more we can focus on the basketball and the flow of the game, the more people are going to feel like they can contribute to the in-arena atmosphere. Our main goal is to make sure the fans feel included, since that’s so tough to measure, we hope that’s the case.”
Hankins said the team received similar feedback about the in-game experience as they did about the concessions in that fans wanted more of a local and authentic feel.
Said Hankins: “A lot of things came out of the post-season survey, but the one comment that struck a chord with me was that fans were asking for our games to feel unique to Portland and unique to Oregon. I think you see that we¹ve started to build that with special nights built out for the Winterhawks and Timbers, the pre-game spoof we do with Portlandia and the music we play in the arena. I think we’ll only continue to grow that as the season goes on and as fans give us their feedback.”
· There have also been changes for fans following Trail Blazers games from home. The team decided to discontinue the CoverItLive chats that were the centerpiece of in-game coverage on Trailblazers.com, replacing it with new digital experiences that cater to various forms of content consumption.
“I put a lot of stock into doing everything we can to provide fans with the best possible second-screen experience,” Hankins wrote. “Unlike any other form of media, live sports is the one place where you can hold the attention of a massive amount of people for a two-hour period. It’s why we’ve invested in providing a mobile and tablet app that can pull up shot charts, statistics and highlights at the palm of your hand. It’s why we’ve invested in SportStream to provide a desktop experience unlike any other that shows both great statistics and crowdsources a narrative of the game based on the most influential people on Twitter and it’s why we’ve invested money with Livefyre, a company who truly understands how to curate a social conversation in the live chats we do on Forward / Center. Not to mention, our recent partnership with Rip City Two and the flurry of activity that goes on during their game threads.
While much of Trailblazers.com was redesigned to bring the website more in line with what the majority of other NBA teams, using products like SportStream and Livefyre still sets the Trail Blazers in-game digital experience apart from how most teams handle live, second-screen action during games.
“I don’t think a ‘one-size, fits all’ approach would necessarily work here and that’s why we strive to provide a bunch of different options,” wrote Hankins. “It’s also why we put most of our efforts on the digital side around the game itself.”
The Trail Blazers are also unique in that they continue to offer a live streaming video service for fans who are unable to subscribe to Comcast SportsNet Northwest. New carriage agreements with cable providers on the Oregon coast alleviated some of the need for the streaming service, which has resulted in fewer signups than in previous seasons, but the decision to offer a way for fans who cannot watch on cable, despite various obstacles, has always been more about making the games available for anyone who wants to watch than making a profit.
“It’s not a money-making proposition for us, it’s about ensuring that fans still have the possibility of having a connection with us by being able to watch games they couldn’t normally receive,” wrote Hankins. “As with all rural areas, using IP address for location detection and overall internet speed are big issues, but we think providing streaming with these challenges is a better move for the organization than not providing it at all. We hope customers are satisfied with what we are able to provide to them, but we fully understand that this doesn’t solve the overall issues with our broadcast deal.”
· So why all the changes? Hankins says that there was a general feeling that many facets of the business needed to be “freshened” and “drastically improved.” In the ever changing landscape of professional sports, the new leadership felt like there was no choice but to forge a new path.
“The organization has made a lot of changes, out of necessity, to ensure that we can compete with all of the forces that exist that keep fans from coming to our games, watching our games on TV and following the team in general,” wrote Hankins. “For a fan base that has dealt with a ton of change over the past several years, my hope is that they’ll see all of these changes as part of a greater process of trying to create a better product for our fans.”
While the success of the organization will always hinge in large part on the the performance of the team itself, the goal of most of the changes has been to ensure that, even in the lean times, there’s still a sense that the Moda Center is the place to be on game nights.
“For those of us on the business side, we don’t have the luxury of being able to rely solely on the product on the court to get people to our games,” wrote Hankins. “We have to do an exceptional job of building the right foundation through our business practices and taking advantage of that foundation so that when the team is excelling, we can capitalize on it.”
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”