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.”