Blazers, Ops Gear Up for Short Season


The National Basketball Association lockout has not
deterred the Portland Trail Blazers from offering a truncated package of pay-per-view
games to Portland, Ore.-area subscribers.

But the shortened season could be the last for the team's
decade-long PPV NBA package: Sources said the team may look to move its games to the
potentially more lucrative Fox Sports Northwest regional-sports network beginning next

The Blazers and local cable operators have had a lot of
past success with the package. However, the team -- which is beginning its 16th
season of offering PPV games -- may go the way of several other NBA teams in looking for
more guaranteed money from regional-sports networks, rather than relying on more risky

While the terms of the current deal are unclear, sources
said the team could reach out to Fox Sports Northwest if this year's shortened season does
not perform well.

Representatives from the Blazers did not return calls
seeking comment by press time.

Fox Sports Northwest, which has 2.5 million subscribers,
would only say that it would welcome the opportunity to offer Blazers games.

"The Trail Blazers are a vital part of the Oregon
community, and we would love an opportunity to televise their games," said Erin
Harvego, manager of media relations for the network.

Fox Sports Northwest acquired a package of Seattle
SuperSonics games last year, after the team experimented with local PPV distribution.

While PPV can provide significant incremental revenue to
both the team and to local operators -- with games often averaging double-digit buy-rates
-- much of the PPV success is inevitably tied to the performance of the teams themselves.
A bad season could produce poor buy-rates.

The regional-sports networks, on the other hand, provide
guaranteed licensing fees, which, in the world of high player salaries, has become more
appealing to team owners. Along with the SuperSonics, the Houston Rockets and the Phoenix
Suns both abandoned PPV for their respective regional-sports networks over the past two

Nevertheless, Portland-area operators are gearing up for
this year's Blazers' PPV package. The lockout and the shortened season, however, have
presented challenges for local operators, as they had to gear up quickly for the start of
the season last Friday.

For example, Tele-Communications Inc.'s TCI Cablevision of
Oregon -- which is in the midst of launching digital technology -- scrambled last week to
make sure that all of its digital boxes could receive the Blazers PPV signal, said Tracey
Aplin, marketing manager for TCI's Oregon region.

Nevertheless, the system expects a strong performance from
the 25-game PPV package, although Aplin feels that the lockout and the shortened schedule
will have some impact on buys.

She also said many of the marquee Eastern Conference NBA
teams -- including the defending champion Chicago Bulls -- are not on the predominantly
Western Conference schedule, which could hamper sales.

"I don't expect it to do as well as it has in the
past," Aplin said. "But the Blazers fans are loyal, and the PPV package provides
the fans with a chance to see the games."

In an effort to spur PPV sales, the Blazers lowered the
price for both individual and package buys. The single-game price is $9.95, compared with
$15.95 last year, while the package is $149.95, compared with $195 last year.

"We're especially glad to hear that they have a
package. With more games over a shorter time period, it relieves subscribers from having
to call in to order each game," Aplin said.