Portland Trail Blazers president Chris McGowan discussed the state of the organization's business side at a luncheon put on by the City Club Of Portland on Friday.
Audio of McGowan's statements, which came in a question-and-answer with team broadcaster Mike Barrett, can be found on PDXCityClub.org.
A few highlights of the interview came when McGowan discussed the team's recent Tweet mocking the Eastern Conference and when he discussed the end of the team's beloved "free Chalupa" promotion.
The Twitter post in question -- "Is it too late to join the Eastern Conference?" -- drew national headlines and some blowback because it was a little bit snarkier than the usual fare from official team accounts. McGowan touted the post's popularity while also saying that similar posts might not be a regular occurrence.
"It's my viewpoint that teams' Twitter handles are very bland and vanilla," McGowan said. "We're trying to change that up a little bit so we can engage with people differently. We probably won't be that edgy going forward because we're not there to ruffle feathers or anything like that. We are there to have a little fun. That tweet alone resulted in 3,000 new followers and four million views, which is significant. Typically on a game day we'll have four or five thousand mentions. That night we had 21,000. If you do things a little bit more different, a little bit more creatively, you can get a little bit more attention."
Regarding the ongoing "Cha-Lu-Pa" chants, McGowan acknowledged that old fan habits can be hard to break but he tried to stick up for McDonald's, the organization's new partner.
"That change is obviously something fans aren't used to because they've been doing something for 14 years," he said. "We have a great partner in McDonald's. They came in, helped develop a promotion that helps us give something [a McMuffin] to our fans when they leave our arena when we do something. I'll take that any day. Although it's not a Chalupa, it's still something people like. They can go get it the next morning when they start their day because it's a breakfast food. It's probably a little more healthy that way than eating real late at night after games."
McGowan also had "no comment" about the team's lack of television availablity on DirecTV.
Here's a partial transcript.
Atmosphere business-wise with wins
You see positive effects pretty much everywhere. In the city, you're seeing positive effects. We get a lot of coverage even when we're not playing so well. That's one of the great things about the market, the passion from fans, and the amount of coverage we get from the media. When you have a start like we have, it just ramps up significantly. Even more people want to talk about it. There's more media, more national media at our games, you become a bigger story almost overnight. Certainly a 16-win start helps with that.
On the business side there's not an area in our business that's not majorly increased because of this. Ticket sales is clearly one area you see a major bump when the team is performing this well, sponsorship conversations have really ramped up over the last month, people are viewing us as a great advertising option. Our TV ratings have probably doubled in the last couple weeks. Our web traffic is up over 100 percent, retails sales are up. Pretty much everything across the business is up. Our job as business people is to be able to make things respectable when our team isn't playing well, keep our fans engaged, provide great service to our sponsors and fans, and take advantage of what winning does in the market.
There are statistics all over our organization now. 30% of tickets sold weren't in our database before. New people are engaged with the team. The TV ratings are so much increased that people are viewing who weren't viewing in the past. All the people who work on the business side of the organization focus their attention on how we take advantage of the platform that winning provides.
Increased website traffic, Twitter engagement, social media
I was pretty public about this when I started 13 months ago -- I can't believe it's been more than a year already. I wasn't really happy with our digital properties. One of the first hires I made was someone that had significant digital experience, Dewayne Hankins, who is here today. He's our VP of Marketing. I tasked him with redesigning our websites, our App. We spent a good deal of the last 6-to-8 months redesigning TrailBlazers.com and redeveloping our app. If you don't have it, I think it's one of the better sports team's apps out there.
Because we put that work in, our site is more functional, it's easier to navigate, we're putting better content on it. The team playing well results in significant traffic increase. The app usage is unbelievable and the traffic on our parts of our site is really good as well. It's about creating a website our fans want, putting unique content, behind the scenes type stuff, that's what fans want to see. And being creative in social media.
We had a good incident in social media a couple of day sago, we did a tweet that some teams might think was a little bit questionable. We were just having fun. We basically said, 'Is it too late to join the Eastern Conference?' Obviously, that's not the viewpoint of our coach, GM or players or anything. It's the viewpoint of a creative marketing guy who is trying to engage fans in an interesting way. It's my viewpoint that teams' Twitter handles are very bland and vanilla. We're trying to change that up a little bit so we can engage with people differently.
We probably won't be that edgy going forward because we're not there to ruffle feathers or anything like that. We are there to have a little fun. That tweet alone resulted in 3,000 new followers and four million views, which is significant. Typically on a game day we'll have four or five thousand mentions. That night we had 21,000. If you do things a little bit more different, a little bit more creatively, you can get a little bit more attention. That's kind of what we're doing on the digital side.
Basketball and business sides are separate
It works really good. The way we're set up here is the same way we were set up in L.A. with the Kings and the Galaxy. I was always tell people it worked there because we came off three championships before we moved here.
[GM] Neil [Olshey] and I, the way we look at this, is that we are partners. He runs the basketball side of the business and I run the business side of the business. He makes all basketball decisions. It's not my skillset, I'm very public about that. Neil is a basketball guy, he spends his everlasting moment and waking hour trying to find ways to make our team better and I spent my everlasting moment and and waking hour trying to find out ways to run a better business, serve our fans better, serve our sponsors better, generate more revenue, make sure the Moda Center is getting good content.
Those are two big jobs, you need people working full-time on that. We communicate a lot. He's there if I need him, I'm there if he needs me, he's been here about six months longer than I have. I'm 13 months in and he's 18 or 19 months in. We're starting to hit our groove, and it's working very well, evidence by some of the side in the business and our record is very good as well.
How engaged is owner Paul Allen with the Blazers?
Really engaged. He's missed one game this year. Having an owner that is that much into the team is awesome. There's not a lot of instances out there where owners are that engaged and involved with the product. He doesn't miss games unless he's out of the country. He's at every game which is a great thing for me because I get to spend time with him and develop my relationship with him. We use it as an opportunity to catch up with things that are happening on the business side and Neil uses it as an opportunity to catch up with things on the basketball side. I enjoy it, having the opportunity to learn from someone like Paul Allen on a nightly basis is not something a lot of people get to do. I'm really intrigued by that.
You want an owner that's engaged and making sure we're running the best organization possible both on and off the court. That's what we have here. I can list lots and lots of teams that don't have that. For me, it's one of the main reasons I took the job, to leave the situation in L.A. to come into an environment like that.
Does Paul Allen trust the people that he's hired to do their job?
Absolutely. On the business side, he just wants us to have a plan and make sure have analyzed everything, have data, don't just use complete gut on decisions. If you have a plan and clearly communicate it to him, that's all he's asking on the business side.
You had lots of transitions right off the bat
I knew going in that there were going to have to be some major transitions in the organization. My approach was to do it as quickly as possible so that the rest of the organization can realize that that tough time is behind them. I want people coming into work comfortable, not complacent, but not worried that we're going to be in a a constant state of restructuring and transitioning. I'm really happy that we're at that point right now. We have a great staff, a great department head group, some people that have been there for awhile and some people who have given us a fresh, new perspective.
I was hired because I have an opinion about how you run the business side of professional sports teams. Fortunately, over the lats 17 years of my career, I worked for a company that owned 10 sports teams, they had owned more teams than that over my 10 years. I had great insight from that experience as to how teams were developed, built and structured.
It's no secret, when I got here, the Blazers were structured very differently from what I was accustomed to. What I like is an organization that's results-oriented, that's built around serving our season ticket holders, serving our sponsors, creating great events and experiences, and really developing great initiatives to generate ROI (return on investment) for sponsors. That's what we've done the last 13 months. We've invested in those areas.
You can't just invest in those areas and keep all of the areas that didn't fit into the structure that I wanted. I had to make some tough decisions, restructuring, eliminations, that was no fun. We're in the entertainment and sports business, it's supposed to be fun. When we went through that for the first three or four or five months that I've been there, there were definitely some mornings that were tough to come into work. I knew to get to where we needed to go, to take things to another level, we were going to need to make some tough decisions. I'm really glad that those are over, how do we create a great team and create all the things I just talked about.
Moda Center naming rights
We think we found the perfect partner. They're all about active living and a healthy lifestyle and we're a sports team, so that's a great match. The people that we get to interact with on a daily basis at Moda are creative and want to look at this as more than a naming rights partnership, more like a community outreach partnership and do stuff in the community. There's a lot of times where companies will put a name on and be done with it, they just want the advertising exposure, but that's not what Moda is about. What can we do to give back to the community? How can we help with the Rose Quarter? There's a bigger vision as it relates to the partnership, which we're excited to be a part of. They're fun to work with.
It came about quickly. I'm a big believer in publicly saying what you're trying to accomplish because that puts a little more pressure on your organization to accomplish it. The staff put a lot of time and energy and focus into it, we brought in a company that specializes in these arrangements, that helped us as well. We found a perfect partner in a quick timeframe, and thankfully we did. What it's going to mean for our organization is phenomenal. Every team we're competing against has these relationships and we were trying to operate without it. We're going to be able to take this business deal and invest back in our company, invest back in our fan experience. We can do a lot of things that frankly were tough to do in the past because we didn't have an arrangement or a partnership like this. It's a good one to have and it will take us to the next level in the future.
What has been response to changing 100-point promotion
Don't start chanting "Chalupa" in here. [Joking]
It's very Portland that people want to keep what's been there
That one in particular, that was 14 years in the making. That change is obviously something fans aren't used to because they've been doing something for 14 years. We have a great partner in McDonald's. They came in, helped develop a promotion that helps us give something to our fans when they leave our arena when we do something. I'll take that any day. Although it's not a Chalupa, it's still something people like. They can go get it the next morning when they start their day because it's a breakfast food. It's probably a little more healthy that way than eating real late at night after games. We're just focused on moving forward with McDonald's because they're great partners.
Rose Quarter development
I'm not a developer by trade. I haven't spent a lot of time on broader development plans. There's been a lot of time spent on that in the past. What we have thought about is the Rose Quarter experience, adding to our fan's experience when they come to events. Making it so that it's not just a plaza when people are crossing to the arena but something that adds to the entertainment value there.
We're going to invest in a new restaurant -- not a 365-day a year restaurant -- but one that's open on event nights, for Blazers games and concert nights. It will go in "The Game" area, that's going to be re-concepted into an experience that's meant for people to go somewhere to have a drink or something to eat before an event, and a place that people can come afterwards as well, to let traffic die down or wait for the next train. That's first up. That's going to bring a lot of new energy to the Rose Quarter.
We're also looking at doing more outdoor activities, weather permitting. On weekend games, we're trying to create more of a festival environment where kids can shoot baskets. Try to liven it up on nights when there are events, first, if we can accomplish that goal, which I think we can, then move on to the bigger vision around it.
First and foremost, we have to enjoy this. We're lucky to work in sports and entertainment, and the one thing you can do is forget to have fun, because you can go 0-13 to end a season just like you can go 16-3 to start a season. I constantly tell myself this is what it's all about, enjoy the wins, celebrate with your fans, have fun during a time like this. Our organization is interested in taking advantage of the platform that this winning provides.
We are doing that, whether it's ticket sales, sponsorships, viewers, our website, I just hope it continues. Not for me, I'm new here, but for our fans, who have supported the team win or lose. I've been in lots of arenas and run teams that didn't this passion. When our team was 0-13 last year [at the end], our building was still full and fans were still coming trying to have an impact. Let's just enjoy it for them because they're the ones who have supported the franchise through thick and thin. It's great seeing their faces, beating the Pacers, the Thunder, those types of teams. It's just fun to be a part of and experience with our fans.
Terry Stotts and Neil Olshey
Terry is so even-keeled and even-mannered, and I like watching him coach because you see how the players respond to him. He teaches, he's fun to watch because the players really enjoy playing for him. I played a little bit of athletics growing up, when you had that player's coach, that was always a better environment to be in, you can really see that going on with the team. He's been really, really pleasant to deal with.
Neil, I'm worked with a lot of GMs, not a lot of them care too much about the business side of things. Not a lot of them care too much about the business side of things. Neil really gets the business side and is really supportive of our efforts, as it relates to what we have to accomplish, in coordination with doing what it takes to ensure we have an environment so that our team can win.
We have a coach who gets it and a GM who gets it which makes our lives easier. Sometimes we have competing goals and it's just a matter of working together making sure we're doing everything to run a profitable business and putting a winning product on the floor.
I think there are a lot of people in my role who want to get involved on the basketball side of things, think they know what a good power forward is and a great point guard. That happens in our industry all over the place and that's just not what I'm going to do. I know what I think I'm good at, and Neil is good at what he does and it's a good partnership.
Supporting the gay marriage campaign in Oregon
We felt it was the right thing to do. It's also something that Vulcan believes in. It's something that Paul believes in. We think it's the right thing to do. We wanted to support it. I didn't think it was going to be that big of a story, but I didn't realize we were going to be one of the first teams to come out in support. We think it's good for the community and the city. It's something we felt was the right thing to support.
Do you think the team is legit?
I think you're getting to the point where the question is answered. It's not five games into the season, it's almost 20 games into the season. We're beating different differently every night, we're getting behind and catching up, we're beating good teams, so you are what you are. We've played a good assortment of teams around the league, home games, road games. Is it sustainable? That's probably a good question for Neil and the coach, but I think we're getting to the point where we're answering those questions by the types of wins we've had of late. I hope it continues because it's a pretty awesome thing to be a part of.
Community Relations strategy with VP Traci Rose leaving
Traci [Rose] is moving on from our organization to the Boys & Girls club. I'm on the board so I'm thrilled, because i know how good of a person and an employee Traci is. Traci has worked for the organization for 27 years and she felt this was the right opportunity for her, of course we're going to support that. She's leaving the organization this month. As a result of that, we're going to look at this as a potential opportunity to bring someone in who can help us take the foundation to another level.
We're going to launch a national search which we've already started. We're hearing so many people interested in this job nationally and locally. We're going to have a lot of good candidates to look at with this position. We're working closely with the NBA to have them help us figure out what's the right fit for this job. I'm looking for someone who can help us create some strategic alliances for some larger initiatives that we can rally behind as an organization for many years to come.
I'm looking for someone who can produce great events. We don't have a big Portland Trail Blazers gala, which I think we should have something like that. Looking for someone that can help fundraise. We need to raise more money, that's something we're not doing a great job on. We need more aggressive fundraising approach. Someone who understands how to engage in the basketball side of things, plugging into the initiatives that are important to our players. What does Damian [Lillard] want to do? What does LaMarcus [Aldridge] want to do?
You can't replace Traci. She was there for years, we're looking at some people that might have a little different skillset than Traci to bring into the organization.
McGowan also discussed adapting to the city of Portland, returning to Los Angeles for a recent Blazers game after working and living in the city for 17 years, the new food options at the Moda Center, being "Oregon's team" and the Rip City Relay, community service, the prospects of an NHL team, and other topics.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter