Update: Blazers President Chris McGowan has denied that the team has completed a broadcast deal with ROOT Sports Northwest. See more here.
With the Portland Trail Blazers negotiating a new television contract, speculation that the team will move away from current partner Comcast SportsNet Northwest has been swirling. Sources for The Seattle Times now claim that ROOT Sports Northwest will be the new Blazers TV home. In an article about incoming Trail Blazers television announcer Kevin Calabro, Geoff Baker of the Times drops the following:
Sources say the team will announce within a week or two they’ll join Mariners-owned ROOT Sports Northwest on a partnership with enhanced distribution of Blazers games.
The attractive part of ROOT Sports, which the Mariners own 71 percent of, is that DirecTV is a 29 percent minority partner. DirecTV uses a satellite-based distribution system blanketing a multi-state territory that includes Oregon and Washington.
Comcast SportsNet Northwest still owns the rights to Trail Blazer games through the 2016-17 season. Unless an unusual deal is struck, the Blazers will not air on ROOT until the fall of 2017. The Blazers’ contract with Portland’s KGW TV ended this season, and its status is unknown.
ROOT Sports Northwest currently provides coverage for a plethora of professional teams, including the Seattle Seahawks, the Seattle Sounders, and the Seattle Mariners. Blazers fans–particularly in areas outside the Portland Metropolitan zone–have long complained about access to games being restricted due to Comcast’s scattered footprint across cable networks and dish services. ROOT Sports is nearly ubiquitous among Northwest television providers. Along with both DirecTV and Dish Network, ROOT can be seen on Comcast, Charter, CenturyLink, Bend Broadband, and Wave.
To see if you have access to Root Sports, visit their channel-finder web site. If you have Dish or DirecTV, and are outside of the Portland territory, you will still need NBA League Pass.
Neither the Blazers nor Root offer a streaming service for games. However, it’s possible that could change. Cable-subscription live TV services (such as Comcast Xfinity) and standalone streaming service Sling TV both add new channels regularly. For the moment, however, neither offers Root.
This broadcast agreement ends a chapter in Blazers television history that started 15 years ago.
The Blazers’ attempts at establishing a permanent network home goes back to 2001, when Allen created the Action Sports Network. In what would become a familiar theme, the network struggled to get carriage across the major providers, especially AT&T Broadband, and the network closed up shop.
Under the watch of Vice President Mike Golub and interim President Tod Leiweke, the Blazers signed a 10-year agreement with Comcast SportsNet in the summer of 2007. The contract was a big moment for the Blazers: It marked the first time that all 82 games would be televised locally across network and basic cable. By 2009, the Blazers announced that all games would be shown in high definition.
However, cracks in the Blazers agreement with Comcast soon appeared. Despite expectations that the network would be available to everyone, Comcast could not come to agreement with a number of major providers in the Portland area. Customers of DirecTV, Dish Network are still locked out, and Charter added the network in 2013. This became a wedge between the Blazers and their own fans, since the 10-year contract contained no exit clauses. The Blazers asked the Federal Communications Commission to intervene, with no success.
Earlier this year, the Portland Tribune’s Kerry Eggers reported that the Blazers were negotiating with Comcast, but with an eye on their ongoing problems. He noted Root Sports’ likely interest in bringing the Blazers into their portfolio, as well as the Blazers’ investigation of possible streaming alternatives. The Blazers apparently felt Root was their best option.
With the loss of the team that anchored their network, Comcast SportsNet Northwest’s independent viability is unknown. Root Sports will likely be creating their own analysis shows, while Blazer-focused shows on Comcast like “Talkin’ Ball” will probably not survive.