Led by the dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, the Portland Trail Blazers look like a good bet to make the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.
And Oregon’s only Big Four pro team is blazing trails in other areas — more fans will be able to watch the team go for the title, as it’s launching the first-of-its-kind Blazers Pass on NBC Sports Gold, a 15-game package distributed directly to consumers in the Portland broadcast area, even if they don’t subscribe to any pay-TV service.
Blazers Pass costs $34.99 for the full slate of games, but fans who sign up before December 1 get a 10 percent discount. Subscribers can watch on the NBC Sports Gold app, available on Apple iOS, Android, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and online at NBCSportsGold.com.
Most importantly, it’s a way for Blazer devotees to watch a decent chunk of select games — including two games each against the world champion Golden State Warriors and longtime rival Los Angeles Lakers — without having to pay for a cable or satellite package.
Many pay-TV providers are increasingly reliant on live news and sports as one of their few remaining advantages over streaming services, but if more products like Blazers Pass emerge and thrive, that could change.
David Preschlack, President, NBC Sports Regional Networks and Platform and Content Strategy, said the idea behind Blazers Pass was simply to provide another option to fans who aren’t signing up for full or slimmed-down cable bundles.
“For a lot of fans, the multichannel bundle works great,” Preschlack said. “There are also fans — whether they used to subscribe to a multichannel bundle or never subscribed — are fans of digital [slimmer offerings, like Sling TV or YouTube TV]. That satisfies a growing number of fans. In many ways, the third leg of that stool, as it stands, is taking a package of games and selling it direct to consumers.”
Blazers Pass came out of NBC Sports’ rights renewal negotiations with the Trail Blazers, which resulted in all the team’s games moving to NBC Sports Northwest (they were previously split between broadcast and cable), and carved out the right to distribute a set of 15 games direct to consumers.
“We do not run the table on the distribution front,” Preschlack said. “DirecTV and Dish do not carry our product. We wanted to serve a subset of those fans who do not have access.”
That resonates in places like Los Angeles, where the Lakers, recent World Series participant Dodgers and soccer team Galaxy have TV deals with networks owned by cable provider Spectrum.
The channel carrying Lakers and Galaxy games is available on most of the region’s pay-TV providers, while the Dodgers channel is less widely distributed — but neither is available on any of the smaller digital bundles or directly over the top.
Preschlack didn’t want to talk about regional sports competitors, but said the confluence of circumstances that made Blazers Pass a fit may not be present everywhere — and there’s nothing else like it in the immediate pipeline.
“Every market’s unique, every market’s different,” he said. “We do not have plans to launch a similar or differentiated product.”
Preschlack did, however, say the initial response to Blazers Pass significantly exceeded his expectations — maybe showing some pent-up demand from the growing group of Americans who like the pick and roll a lot more than picking up the phone to call a cable company.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the number of signups we got in 24 hours based on a press release,” he said.