Blazer ticket sales drop sharply

City figures show revenue nearly halved in four years
by: KYLE GREEN, City of Portland figures show just how much less ticket revenue Blazer President Steve Patterson (left) and owner Paul Allen have to work with as they try to turn the team around.

It's not news, of course, that the Portland Trail Blazers aren't exactly a hot ticket.

But while Blazer officials tend to be rather quiet about how cold their ticket sales have become during the last several years, some previously unpublicized city of Portland figures paint the picture rather starkly:

Total Blazer ticket sale revenue last year was barely more than half of what it was in 2002-03. While the Blazers ticket revenue for the 2002-03 season was almost $36 million, it was barely more than $20 million during the 2005-06 season.

In fact, for what was likely the first time ever, non-Blazer events at the Rose Garden brought in more ticket revenue last year than Blazer tickets did.

The details on the woeful ticket revenue come during a particularly unsettled financial time for the Blazers and, to an extent, for the team's owner, Paul Allen.

The Blazers have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the 18 years that Allen has owned the team - as much as $125 million in 2002-03 alone.

Early this year, about the time an Allen executive was quoted as saying that the Blazers' 'economic model is broken' and that the team stood to lose more than $100 million over the next three years, Allen executives began meeting with local and state officials about possible public aid to help the team survive in Portland.

After the requests were rebuffed, Allen - along with the Allen creditors who took over ownership of the Rose Garden in January 2005 after Allen's Oregon Arena Corp. went into bankruptcy and gave up the arena to them - put the team and the arena up for sale.

Allen pulled the team off the market less than two months later.

Slow ticket sales have hardly been the Blazers' only problem. But they have been one of the team's big problems, especially in recent years.

They have served as a barometer for public dissatisfaction with players that have had repeated problems with the law and a team that hasn't been very competitive in recent years.

After 18 years of first Memorial Coliseum and then Rose Garden sellouts for Trail Blazer games, empty seats - and empty luxury suites - have become common at the Rose Garden. This year, the team for a while featured a ticket package that offered seats at about $4 per game - 25 games for $99.

But the city's figures underline in hard numbers how bad things have actually gotten for the Blazers.

City take drops, too

The city keeps track of total ticket revenue for the Blazers because the city gets 6 percent of the revenue. That was part of the original Rose Garden deal between the city and Allen's companies - to help the city recoup the $35 million it spent to redevelop areas around the Rose Garden in conjunction with the arena's construction.

The figures show the city received ticket-related user fees of $2.16 million in 2002-03 - 6 percent of $36 million in total ticket revenue. The figures show the city received $1.21 million last year - 6 percent of about $20.12 million.

The figures are for all ticket-related revenue for Blazer games - including preferred seating tickets and revenue from the arena's luxury suites for Blazer games.

The city's figures do not indicate how much of the ticket revenue was for each category of ticket, or whether some type of revenue declined faster than others during the last four years.

Unlike with most NBA teams and their arenas, the ticket revenue is split between the Trail Blazers and the new owners of the arena, a company formed by Allen's creditors called Portland Arena Management.

In a move that many in the industry considered curious, Allen and Oregon Arena gave up the lucrative preferred seating and luxury suite revenue when they gave up ownership of the arena through Oregon Arena's bankruptcy.

Allen pursued the bankruptcy, his representatives have said, to avoid the more than $15 million in annual interest payments Oregon Arena was required to make to the creditors. But in return, Oregon Arena also gave up the preferred seating and luxury suites - which provide many professional team owners with a significant chunk of their profits.

Concerts bring in cash

Robert Cornilles, founder and president of Tualatin's Game Face Inc., which advises the business departments of more than 350 professional sports teams, said he believes the Blazers recently made a good move in hiring former New York Rangers executive Mike Golub to be their vice president of business operations.

But Cornilles called the tickets sales decline 'a big drop -that's cause for concern, and cause for some corrective action.'

Cornilles said total tickets sales are normally 70 percent to 80 percent of an NBA team's total revenue. 'So you can see clearly - if that reflects 70 percent of their total revenue, or even 80 percent - then they are indeed losing a lot of money.'

Blazers officials declined to comment on the recent-year sales figures. Blazer spokesman Art Sasse wrote in an e-mail that Blazer ticket sales information 'is considered proprietary information by both the Trail Blazers and the NBA. We would subject ourselves to a substantial fine if we answered your questions as they relate to ticket sales.'

Meanwhile, while the city figures detail the Blazers' sales problems, they also show that other events at the Rose Garden are doing better since Portland Arena Management took over ownership - which potentially means more profits that Allen gave up to the creditors.

Portland Arena Management hired national arena manager Global Spectrum to manage the facility, and it brought in many more events during 2005-06, including rock concerts by Paul McCartney, U2 and the Rolling Stones.

Ticket revenue for non-Blazer games rose from $22.5 million in 2004-05 to $30.2 million in 2005-06, according to city figures.

'Global Spectrum has found a way to use the building in a much more effective way than Oregon Arena ever did,' said Rich Josephson, a Portland lawyer and board member for Portland Arena Management.

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