It's no see TV for many Blazer games
Impasse between Comcast, cable and dish blacks out games of Portland's NBA teamAs the Trail Blazers went on a winning streak, Jefferson County fans were unable to watch most of the wins.
Some were available on Portland station KGW, ESPN or TNT. Most were on a new sports station, Comcast SportsNet Northwest which launched on Nov. 1, 2007. That station is on a limited number of cable systems in Oregon. Nor is Comcast available to local satellite subscribers. Last season, most Trail Blazer games were on Fox Sports Northwest.
Both the Trail Blazers and Crestview, the cable system serving Jefferson County, are very aware of the issue.
"We have heard from hundreds of frustrated Blazers' fans who are extremely frustrated, and understandably," said Dick Vardanega, Trail Blazer vice president of broadcast and production in an e-mail response. "A blackout isn't our intention; we want all Blazer fans to se as many games possible, which was why a deal was struck that puts all 82 games on television for the first time without a subscription."
Comcast also "understands the frustration of Trail Blazer fans," said Tim Fitzpatrick, that company's vice president of communications. "This season, the Trail Blazers have a 255 percent increase in viewership over last season. That shows how much interest there is in the Trail Blazers."
However, Comcast has a limited access among cable systems in Oregon. Only 12 cable systems offer Comcast, according to the Comcast Web site. None of those 12 is in Central or Eastern Oregon. Comcast is available on just 15 systems in the Northwest.
Comcast offers "a tremendous product of relevance and value," said Fitzpatrick. "We're offering 50 Trail Blazer games, an increase from the 35 offered last season (by Fox Sports Northwest)."
Fitzpatrick further cited Comcast's daily sports show on Oregon sports, replays of Trail Blazer and "classic" Trail Blazer games as examples of the channel's value. Comcast also offers telecasts of the National Hockey League, Portland Winter Hawks, University of Oregon men's and women's basketball plus University of Portland men's basketball.
Crestview did negotiate with Comcast to make Trail Blazer games available, said Roger Harris, Crestview's vice president of cable operations for Oregon and California.
"They wanted to be on our primary package, but to do that we had to raise our rates just for Comcast," Harris said. "Plus, we don't have any more channel capacity on our primary package."
As a compromise, Crestview offered putting Comcast on a sports tier "so the people who want to watch Trail Blazer games could pay for them," Harris said. "Comcast said no to that."
Comcast countered that by saying Crestview offers sports channels which are not specifically aimed at Oregon sports fans.
"Crestview offers Fox Sports Northwest which is based in Seattle and features Seattle teams," Fitzpatrick said. "We offer a product which caters to the Portland and Oregon fans. We see Comcast as a more relevant product for Oregon viewers. We're frustrated and puzzled why Crestview hasn't added our product to their expanded basic service."
Harris said in the 15 years he's been with Crestview, the cable company has offered a package of Trail Blazer games.
The Trail Blazers are hopeful negotiations will be successful with cable companies as well as satellite providers to carry Comcast, Vardanega said.
"We're optimistic that this will be resolved at some point; when it is, those games will be available to fans in Madras and throughout Oregon," Vardanega said.
From Comcast's perspective, the issue of Trail Blazer fans being able to watch their favorite team will be resolved.
"We're in it for the long haul," Fitzpatrick said. "We continue to negotiate with cable systems. The day will come when distribution questions will be a distant memory."
Until then, 13 of Portland's final 37 games will be on KGW. Cable stations ESPN and TNT also have Trail Blazer games scheduled.
Comcast has started a Web-roots campaign to put pressure on cable and dish systems to offer its product. The company's Web site (http://northwestcomcastsportsnet.com) and click on "I want Comcast." That will direct the person to the local cable system or dish provider to send a message.
For the winter sports season,