Interview with Mike Golub, Part II

"We realize, just like you guys at BlazersEdge, the internet is where people interact with us." ~ Mike Golub

The following is Part II of our conversation with Portland Trail Bazers COO Mike Golub. 

Click here to read Part I, in which we discuss his career path prior to the Blazers, the relationship between Basketball Operations and Business Operations within the Trail Blazers organization, the importance of professional facilities and the potential global expansion of the NBA, whether the rookie scale contract system should be changed for Europeans like Rudy Fernandez,  the Sonics leaving Seattle and the potential aftermath and whether the NBA is "recession-proof."

In Part II, running here, we discuss:

  • The latest on the Comcast deal.
  • The launch of 95.5 The Game.
  • Forthcoming online developments.
  •  Whether Paul Allen is, in fact, the best owner in professional sports.
  • Who he reads online and whether he is ever tempted to respond to the team's critics.

To repeat myself from Part I: if you are a true fan, you will cowboy up and read this thing word-for-word, especially if you are interested in a career in sports.  Mr. Golub was kind enough to speak openly and honestly about a number of topics; he drops some serious, serious knowledge.

Blazersesdge: You have taken some pretty strong steps to reinforce your ties in the city and the region -- the Comcast deal and some involvement with 95.5 The Game on the radio.  Can you clear up for people the relationship between that radio station, Paul Allen and the Blazers organization?

Paul owns the Trail Blazers and the arena.  Paul owns the radio station and other radio stations.  They are separate, independently run businesses that have common ownership. 

It's not too different from Converse, Umbro and Bauer that Nike owns. 

We have a rights deal with The Game that gives them the rights to broadcast our games and gives us a set of rights, in the same way other teams have rights deals with independent radio stations and the same way we had rights deals that were unaffiliated with our owner in years past.  We have a business deal that gives us certain rights-who does production, who sells advertising, who determines talent.  We have an agreement with them that provides for us being on their air.  We get considerations and they get considerations and we have this business deal. 

They have their own bottom line they have to hit and we have ours but we work very cooperatively together because our fortunes are linked. 

We want them to succeed but it's a business arrangement very similar to how it would work if there wasn't common ownership.  Very, very similar to what we have with Comcast.  There's not common ownership, but we have a very specific deal that outlines all the terms and all the considerations that go back and forth, and it provides them the rights to do our games.  The fact that Paul owns the radio station really doesn't have that much bearing on how things function.

Blazersesdge: One year later, how would you assess the success of the Comcast deal- in terms of their presentation of your product and the financial implications of that?   

 I'll start with what I think is good news. Because this is a good news, bad news situation.  Or, a very happy and very disappointing situation.  So I'll start with the happy side.  That is, a really successful launch. 

In a very short period of time they launched Portland's first ever regional sports network and did it very successfully. They put a very professional product on the air.  They've gotten other content - University of Oregon stuff and other relevant, local programming that heretofore never had a home.  People found our games easily and quickly.  Our ratings on cable were up 95 percent. Ratings were up. The fact that we did more HD games than we did before, the fact that every single one of our games were either on KGW, Comcast or national television for the first time in history was great.  More and longer pre and post games, more specials.  For the folks that have Comcast had a really great situation. More games, more programming, more HD. 

One of the most frustrating of last season, maybe the only frustrating part, was our inability to get satellite distribution for Comcast.  We fully expected it to be a challenging process but we never, never thought that folks with satellite would not have a chance to see cable games for the full season.  We never thought that was the case. We were comforted when we did the deal with Comcast because they have regional sports networks with the Sacramento Kings and Chicago and Philadelphia and Washington and always were able to strike deals with DirecTV and Dish to distribute that channel. So we thought we would have similar success. 

It was very, very frustrating for our fans and for us.  And we heard it from our fans and we understand.  We spent a lot of time communicating on the phone, in writing and in person with many of the affected fans and it was really distressing and frustrating for us.  But here we are in the offseason, a year later, and we are cautiously optimistic again that it will get figured out by the time the season starts, so that all Dish and DirecTV customers will have access to our games. 

It was a good decision for us from a business standpoint-it was a really good, solid deal for us.  We felt really good about being the catalyst of the first ever regional sports channel.

Blazersedge: Right now how would you summarize whether that deal gets done?

I and we have been wrong so often here that I would be really hesitant to make any predictions because all my predictions have been off.  We are not at the table.  We are not negotiating. It's Comcast negotiating with the Satellite companies.  We are a VERY interested 3rd party... but we're not at the table.   Comcast remains optimistic and they think they will get something done, but at this point until something is signed and sealed and done, will we ever relax about this?

Blazersedge: The internet push has been really well received- the website design, the people you've brought on board, the blogging, IAmATrailblazersFan.com.  Is there anything new for 2008 that you want to let out of the bag?

I think fans should look for continued improvement, more changes, more content, continue to grow IAmATrailbazersFan.com.  It is a really fun and enjoyable thing to develop a community of fans and we were really amazed by how quickly that was embraced.  We have some really great and talented people dedicated to continuing to improve the online experience. Fans will see some new things and new features both on Trailblazers.com and IAmATrailbazersFan.com. 

We realize, just like you guys at BlazersEdge, the internet is where people interact with us, it is where people connect with us.  We can only put 20,000 people in the arena.  A lot of people don't live nearby, don't have the means, aren't able to come to games on a regular basis and we know they interact with us online and through broadcast and we try to make all of those experiences as good as they can be.  We are proud of what we've done online but we've got a lot more to do and we are always going to strive to make things better.

Blazersedge: I've heard great things about MLB.tv, a service that allows live streaming of baseball games on a personal computer.  How does the NBA plan to potentially address streaming video online?

 What the league has now is: if you are a League Pass subscriber, if you buy the package either on Satellite or Cable, you have access all streaming of the games.  That's the decision they made. 

Baseball, you pay a subscription fee and you can't see your in-market games, when I was in New York, I could see any game around the country, that's great for fans, Fox isn't so crazy about it. 

Fox spends all this money for rights fees and wait a second, I'm showing the Dodgers-Mets and someone can watch it online.  There's many sides to the issue. It's a great thing for the fans especially fans that live out of market. 

The NBA has struck sort of a hybrid deal-it's available to some but not as wide a universe.  They feel that's served them well, thus far. 

Blazersedge: Do you feel this setup working for the Blazers?

It's not our rights, it's the league rights. In some respects, it works for us because while we would never want to prevent people from doing what they want to do, we would rather have you home watching a Blazers game rather than streaming a Sacramento Kings game.  That's sort of the rationale.

They say for people who commit to all of our games as hardcore fans and spend the subscription fee- with that comes the benefit of watching any game they want, either at home or online. There's some logic to that.  It's an ever-involving fluid issue-but I think the league has done a really good job of balancing the rights of teams in the league and benefits to the fans.  I think it's working.

Blazersedge: I found an interesting quote in an interview you did with Stanford Business from 1997. "It's a huge kick in the pants to read the sports page for your job," Golub says. "At the same time, you're no longer just a fan. I love basketball, but I'm much more dispassionate about it now. It's changed how I root for and follow the game." That quote was from your time at Nike.  10 years later, do you still feel the same way?

It's really interesting. I've been lucky enough to have a job with the league, a job with the biggest shoe manufacturer and sports company in the world, a job on the broadcast side, and now on the team side.  It's interesting having been on various sides of the business.  At the league, you are dispassionate, by definition you are neutral.  My existence at the league was not predicated on one team succeeding or not.  It was predicated on the entire league as a whole.  On the team side, it's very different.

Blazersedge: I was going to say, you don't strike me as very dispassionate.

Frankly, it's a lot more fun being on the team side. I love the fact that the fate of the Blazers and my professional life are inexorably linked.  I love that.  It can be crazy. After a heartbreaking loss, coming in the next day, and trying to rally the troops and conduct business, it's hard.  Conversely, when things are going really well like the streak, it is magical.  For fans and for all of us as employees.  We are all fans.  You get swept up in that and you can't help when you are this close to it to really like the team, and like the players and root for them. 

And, moreover, our jobs are much easier when things are going well.  It is a much different experience of being part of the team side than it was at some of my other job experiences.  And, a lot more fun.  We are as close to the game as you can get without wearing the shorts and playing.  It's a lot of fun. 

I also like the fact that we are closer to our fans and to the community than perhaps it is in a league job or working for a sponsor.  I love the fact that we have an idea here and we institute something - for example, the new scoreboard in the Rose Garden last year. 

We decided we really needed a new scoreboard and ownership agreed and they gave us the resources to go ahead and do it.  We did all the research and designed it, and we really about it the right way and we felt we came up with a great sign, and we put the scoreboard in and it was awesome.

And it changed the experience of going to the game. It changed the experience of being at the Rose Garden for a game.  That was a very cool thing.  Take an idea and bring it to life and fans enjoy it-and that happens all the time. It's just sports-we're not ending wars or curing cancer or doing some of the amazing work that so many people do-but we like to think that we're enhancing the quality of life for a really broad cross-section of people in Portland throughout Oregon.

Blazersedge: Is Paul Allen the best owner in Sports?

I certainly think so. I'm biased. He just celebrated his 20th anniversary as the Blazers owner. Incredibly long tenure. Incredible commitment to giving back.  Not just resources but his family foundation has given more than 40 million dollars to various non-profits throughout the state over the last 12 or 13 years.  He is, like us, just a big fan. He wants us to win and gives us all the resources to do what we've got to do to try to become a championship team.  We are honored to work for him.

Blazersedge: In that quote, you mentioned reading the sports page.  Are you still reading print or have you moved to the internet?  And who do you read?

I'm still a paper junkie. I read the New York Times, the USA Today, the Oregonian, religiously every day.  Sports Business Daily.  Sports Business Journal. I read Slate, but more for fun.  I read ESPN, I love Bill Simmons, he's terrific.  Fox Sports. Hoops Hype.  So most of the industry stuff, I'm pretty voracious.

Blazersedge: Do you find yourself writing to the people you read?  Are you sending off letters to the editor?

No, I think in our role we shouldn't necessarily be on the front lines.  When I do disagree with a local columnist or have a different point of view, it's about a long, ongoing relationship. John Canzano, who I get along very well with, I don't always agree with what he has to say but we have a nice dialogue and I'm able to express that. 

It's our PR Department's job to interact.  I'm sanguine and philosophical about our position of being a very scrutinized, a very visible organization. It's a wonderful thing.  A lot of businesses would die for the kind of publicity and exposure that we get. We are really grateful and fortunate for the kind of coverage we get.

The flip side of that is that we are going to get criticized-people are going to say and write things that we may not agree with or may not be pleasant. That comes with the territory.  We have to have thick skin and we also have to understand that we're not going to be able to please everybody all the time.  How we handle criticism, as an organization, says a lot. 

Criticism is an outgrowth of people caring about us and shows us that people are passionate about us.  That's a great sign. So, that's why I'm philosophical. I've been through a lot--- we can only control what we can control and we just continue to do the right things.

Blazersedge: So, who's the pick at #13?

Are we going to keep it? Are we going to trade up? Are we going to trade out of the draft? It's unclear... it's unclear. 

Blazersedge: People ask me so I've got to ask you so I know what to say.

I think it's wide open. 

A huge, huge thanks to Mr. Golub and his staff for making the time to speak with us this week. I hope you take this interview as another sign that the team "gets it" when it comes to fan relations and I encourage you to leave your thoughts and thanks for Mr. Golub in the comments. 

-- Ben (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com)

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