ROOT Sports Northwest has continued its recent expansion of on-air content by acquiring rights to broadcast Portland Trail Blazers NBA games starting next season in a long-expected move announced Wednesday morning.
The multiyear deal is expected to match the length of ROOT’s recent rights agreement for the Kraken expansion NHL franchise and gives the regional sports network (RSN) a potent winter lineup that was largely vacant just a few months ago. The length and financial terms of the Trail Blazers and Kraken deals have yet to be disclosed, but The Oregonian reported the Portland agreement was for four seasons.
A source with knowledge of the latest deal said the network will set up alternate channels for dates when the Kraken, Trail Blazers and Mariners have games that conflict with one another.
Priority on the main ROOT channel will be based mainly on the importance of the game being played that day by either of the three teams. The RSN, in which the Mariners hold a 71% stake with AT&T-owned DirecTV holding the remainder, is anticipating dates when all three teams will be playing at the same time.
Portland was eliminated in six games by the Denver Nuggets last week in the opening round of the NBA playoffs.
The Trail Blazers deal also will not impact the ability of ROOT to bid for rights to future Sonics games if that NBA franchise is revived. Officials at the network anticipate a new Seattle franchise will happen, but is at least a few seasons away.
NBA rules protect the broadcast rights of any team within a 75-mile radius of its home arena, meaning ROOT would be obligated to show Trail Blazers games in the surrounding Portland area and Sonics games in Seattle and nearby. After that, the RSN could pick and choose where to show the games of either team.
“This is exciting and appealing, we think, on many levels,” Chris McGowan, Blazers President and CEO, said in a release. “We’re looking forward to joining a network that other professional teams are on and excited to partner with teams like the Mariners and Kraken. It’s a great place to watch sports in the Pacific Northwest.”
A pairing between the Trail Blazers and ROOT has been anticipated for years given the RSN’s distribution advantage over Comcast-owned rival NBCSports Northwest. Forbes reported in March that a switch by the team to ROOT was imminent, and The Oregonian confirmed additional details this week.
In 2016, the last time Trail Blazers rights were up for renewal, ROOT offered more money to acquire them than did the Comcast affiliate — which had held them since 2007.
But then-Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen, according to The Oregonian, worried that ROOT’s distribution agreement with Comcast was expiring and would not be renewed — limiting the capability of exposing the team to a broader audience.
The distribution deal did wind up being renewed later, and — with ROOT’s existing satellite-based network — that means the RSN now offers a much wider reach the Trail Blazers have long coveted. The Trail Blazers, led by McGowan, in July 2016 wound up doing a shorter-term extension of only four additional seasons with what’s now NBCSports NW to see how the situation played out.
And ROOT’s appetite for the NBA team’s rights only grew after an anticipated NHL team finally materialized in Seattle and offered the RSN the chance to expand its portfolio of major local sports. ROOT had owned Sonics rights until that team left for Oklahoma City in 2008 and held Trail Blazers rights under its former Fox Sports Net banner before the 2007 Comcast acquisition.
It had initially been expected that Seattle would apply for NHL expansion in the summer of 2015, but none of three arena groups at the time in Seattle, Bellevue or Tukwila wound up making a bid. Had a bid happened, a team would almost certainly have been awarded and local RSN powerhouse ROOT would have been the obvious choice to acquire NHL rights and pair them with an NBA deal — with Portland initially and later a future Sonics team — to grow its content.
But that didn’t happen, and the Seattle City Council in May 2016 voted down a proposed new arena in the Sodo District just as the NBA team’s talks with ROOT were ending. Then, just months after the Trail Blazers re-upped with their current rights holder, Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke emerged with a plan to overhaul the former KeyArena to serve as home to future NHL, NBA and WNBA teams.
A year later, in December 2017, the NHL authorized Leiweke’s group to make a formal expansion bid, and what’s now the Kraken was approved 12 months later. ROOT acquired the Kraken rights in January, giving it a long-awaited major pro sports entity alongside its summer Mariners programming and allowing it to fill the winter void created by the Sonics leaving more than a decade prior.