Sports Radio KJR AM 950 this month began airing the first of seven live broadcasts of Portland Trail Blazers games. It allows Paul Allen’s basketball team to experiment with a push into what it considers an untapped Seattle market.
Inside sports business
Eight years after the Sonics left town, we’ve got an NBA team back on one of the major local radio stations.
Sports Radio KJR AM 950 this month began airing the first of seven live broadcasts of Portland Trail Blazers games, starting with a Feb. 6 contest in Houston and continuing last Friday with a resounding home win over the defending champion Golden State Warriors. The move gives the station needed weekend programming between football and baseball seasons, while Paul Allen’s basketball team experiments with a push into what it considers an untapped Seattle market of Blazers fans.
And with the NBA considering a loosening of rules for teams marketing beyond their home territory, we’ll see how much of this city’s basketball hearts the Blazers snare as we approach a decade since losing our squad.
Remaining KJR broadcasts of Blazers games
Saturday: Blazers at Chicago Bulls
Sunday: Blazers at Indiana
April 3: Blazers at Golden State
April 9: Blazers vs. Minnesota
“One of the things that we really strongly wanted to do was get some airplay on the radio up there,’’ said Dewayne Hankins, a senior vice president of brand strategy and digital for the Trail Blazers and the Rose Quarter sports and entertainment district. “Obviously, our Comcast games already get played up there on TV, so we felt that there was a good match.”
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Hankins said the team’s research has found 13 percent of single-game ticket sales come from the Seattle area. That’s a significant draw, given the 173-mile distance between cities.
Also, he said only half the team’s website traffic is from Oregon, and Seattle represents “the second biggest chunk” of the remaining 50 percent logging in from elsewhere.
The timing is intriguing: Allen and his advisers have tracked every happening with entrepreneur Chris Hansen’s efforts to build a new arena on their Sodo District doorstep. They also know Seattle’s best shot at an NBA expansion team is still likely two or three years away and that it could be another half-decade before it would begin play.
That’s an eternity in the sports world.
Frankly, enough time has elapsed since the Sonics left that there will be teenage basketball fans here with no allegiance to a departed team they barely remember.
So, at worst, a gradual push by Allen’s basketball team into Seattle could stoke NBA passions anew and set up an even more intense Sonics-Blazers rivalry down the road. At best, it gives the Blazers a head start at capturing allegiances of younger fans in this market before Hansen or somebody else has a chance to.
This Blazers push comes as NBA governors mull changes to rules allowing teams to only market within a 75-mile radius of their home arena. Some exceptions have already been given to the Blazers for game broadcasts and digital ads since there are no competing teams.
A rule change could open up Seattle to things like Blazers billboard campaigns, newspaper ads and any other marketing options currently off limits.
“It would be great to be able to do that more effectively,’’ Hankins said.
KJR program director Rich Moore says the timing of the Blazers’ radio push worked out well. The team has a partnership with KJR owner iHeartMedia and asked it to explore a possible Seattle fit.
“When the Super Bowl ends and baseball starts, there’s a period of time and transition where the sports world is perceived to slow down a little bit,’’ Moore said. “Over the past few years at this radio station over that time period, I’ve carried a lot of Canucks games on evenings and weekends where it doesn’t disrupt a lot of what we’re doing.
“The Canucks aren’t doing as well this year and the Blazers have always attracted interest from this market. Just to fill the void and do what the Canucks have done in the past, we’ve picked a handful of games on evenings or weekends that accomplishes that and gives us an outlet for NBA fans.’’
The Canucks are languishing in the bottom third of the NHL’s standings in their worst season since 1998-99. The Blazers, meanwhile, had won nine of 10 heading into Sunday’s third KJR broadcast against Utah to climb above .500 and into second place in the NBA’s Northwest Division.
Moore put a handful of Blazers games on KJR’s sister KHHO AM 850 station in Tacoma a few years back. But this is the first time he’s had them on the main outlet, with station alumnus Brian Wheeler teaming with Antonio Harvey on the play-by-play call.
“I think that enough time has gone by from the Sonics leaving that the Sonics-Blazers rivalry isn’t a negative,’’ Moore said. “They’re just the Blazers.’’
Hankins says the eventual hope is for more than just a seven-game trial on local radio.
“We have affiliates in markets all over Oregon right now and we have some in southern Washington,’’ Hankins said. “We’d love to have a full-time affiliate up in Seattle and Tacoma that would play all of our games. I think that’s ultimately the goal.’’