The Portland Trail Blazers’ relationship with local NBC affiliate KGW-TV began in the summer of 1992. Coming off their second NBA Finals appearance in three years, the Blazers moved their highly-rated broadcasts to KGW from long-time partner KOIN-TV. Over the next 24 years, KGW became synonymous with the Blazers for generations of new fans. But that may be coming to an end.
The Blazers agreed to a three-year broadcast deal with KGW in the summer of 2013. In a sign of the times, the Seattle area was locked out of the local broadcasts. They have been guaranteed at least 16 local broadcasts per season, typically against some of the NBA’s best, plus exclusive local rights to any first-round playoff games.
The KGW contract is ending while the Blazers are negotiating a new cable broadcasting contract. As the Blazers seem to be expanding their influence into the Seattle market, the limitations of KGW broadcasts become glaring: It’s hard to enter a market when some of your premier games are unavailable.
Across the NBA, broadcast networks have lost rights to cable companies. Few teams split games across cable and network, preferring instead to have one location for all games. Cable broadcasters want to be the only home for an NBA team, and pay handsomely for those exclusive rights. The Blazers are a throwback franchise, one of the rare franchises with games still accessible to those with a TV antenna.
As rumors float about a possible Blazers deal with ROOT Sports Northwest, the status of KGW-TV is curiously silent. Will KGW get a fresh renewal? What would happen to the games otherwise? Let’s look at some of the possibilities.
- Status Quo Continues. The Portland Trail Blazers re-sign with KGW, and have some games each season available via antenna. With the fresh push for Seattle coverage, the Blazers would probably want a broadcast contract from KING-TV as well, along with other local networks in the region.
- KGW’s Lame Duck Season. Blazers’ Comcast SportsNet contract is ending in 2017. Regardless of who wins the broadcast rights, the next contract might include the games currently shown by KGW. But the Blazers would need someone to air the 2016-17 season. Enter KGW, who could agree to one more season as a victory lap, before exiting the pro basketball business.
- Welcome back KOIN or KPTV! If KGW is not interested in a single lame-duck season, it’s possible another local network would grab the reigns. The Blazers tend to have a core audience, and another network might not mind access to that audience for one season. Perhaps they'd have an easier time working out Seattle-area availability.
- Internet Streaming. Steve Ballmer wants to do it with the Clippers, so why not Portland? Well, there are a lot of limitations. A number of outlying areas in the northwest have bandwidth limitations. Then there's a matter of cost. How much would each fan need to pay, to approach the money a cable or television network would offer?
- The Comcast Takeover. If Comcast unexpectedly scores a renewal of their cable contract, the rights to KGW games may immediately get rolled right into the package. In this situation, all games not on ABC or TNT would be seen on Comcast SportsNet.
- The ROOT Takeover. If the Blazers do sign with ROOT Sports Northwest, it’s anticlimactic to also announce "... and you can start watching games there in 16 months!". Root does have a final-season buyout option with CSN NW, so they could conceivably broadcast all games this fall, including ones formerly on KGW. Alternatively, KGW’s games could be moved to ROOT this fall, while CSN NW airs the rest. This would give Blazer fans a chance to acclimate to the new network immediately, before it takes over all broadcasts one year later.
The Blazers announced KGW’s last renewal at the end of July, however it’s possible they plan a big announcement to coincide with their new cable contract. Of the five options listed, only two involve KGW, and only one would keep them there past the upcoming season. The entire NBA has moved away from local network broadcasts over the last five years, and KGW may soon be the next casualty.