Portland Trail Blazers Defect to RSN Powerhouse ROOT Sports

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The Portland Trail Blazers are moving on from their RSN partner of 14 years to join an emerging superpower in the Pacific Northwest. The NBA franchise on Wednesday announced that it will make the jump to the Seattle-based ROOT Sports next season, bringing an end to its long association with NBC Sports Northwest.

While financial terms were not disclosed, the Blazers’ four-year pact with ROOT will expand the team’s local TV footprint from approximately 1.1 million households to as many as 2 million homes in the region. It also frees the team from NBC Sports Northwest’s never-ending carriage standoff with the satellite TV giants DirecTV and Dish Network, neither of which have made the RSN available to its subscribers at any time during the Blazers’ residency.

The loss of the Blazers will be felt keenly by the RSN. Portland, over the course of the 2020-21 NBA season, ranked third among the 29 stateside clubs with a 3.3 household rating, which marked a 7% increase versus the year-ago period. Ratings represent the percentage of homes that tune in to a given channel; when expressed as a census-type figure, the Blazers were the NBA’s 10th-biggest local draw, with an average audience of some 36,268 households per game.

The Blazers’ new home is in the midst of a series acquisition jag, as ROOT in late January inked a five-year deal with the NHL’s expansion team, the Seattle Kraken. While financial terms were not disclosed, the new agreement will make the Kraken all but ubiquitous in their home market, as 75 of the club’s 2021-22 outings will air on ROOT.

How ROOT will navigate the rapids of the NBA and NHL schedules remains to be seen, although as MSG Network and a number of the Bally Sports-branded RSNs have demonstrated, it’s not altogether impossible to juggle the two sports. That said, production of the Blazers’ games will remain in-house even after the move.

ROOT is also the home to the Seattle Mariners and the Portland Timbers of the MLS. During the 2019 MLB season, the Mariners were baseball’s 13th-biggest local draw, averaging 85,193 homes per game on ROOT. The M’s are a majority shareholder in ROOT Sports Northwest, owning 60% of the network, with the remainder controlled by AT&T’s Sports Networks division.

The recent ROOT buying spree is a function of the outsized fees the RSN is able to secure from cable and satellite operators. Kagan, a division of S&P Global Market Intelligence, projects that ROOT Northwest in 2022 will boast an average carriage fee of $5.03 per subscriber per month, making it the nation’s 12th-priciest RSN. ROOT is available via Comcast’s Xfinity TV cable service, as well as DirecTV and DISH Network.

“We are ecstatic to join ROOT Sports starting next season,” said Blazers president and CEO Chris McGowan, by way of announcing the deal. “With so many other Pacific Northwest teams already in the ROOT Sports family and its broad footprint, choosing ROOT was the best decision for our fans.”

While the Blazers’ move will nearly double the team’s local TV footprint, the shift will put it at something of a disadvantage as far as cord-cutting fans are concerned. At present, ROOT isn’t available on any streaming service other than AT&T TV, whereas an NBC Sports Northwest feed may be accessed from such virtual MVPDs as fuboTV, Hulu and YouTube TV. ROOT is currently negotiating to get its new package of Blazers games up and running across various alternative-delivery services in time for the 2021-22 NBA season.

Portland on June 3 was eliminated from the NBA postseason when it fell to the Denver Nuggets in their best-of-seven series. That Thursday night game, which Denver won by a decisive 126-115 margin, was the high-water mark for the Blazers’ national TV appearances, averaging 3.3 million viewers on TNT.

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