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Canzano: Trail Blazers' broadcast decision is a small-time move
NBA franchise won't send broadcaster on the road.
Bill Schonely told me one time that he absolutely loved being on the road with the Trail Blazers. As the long-time, original, play-by-play voice of the NBA franchise, the road was where Schonely really got to know the team he covered.
It’s where he earned the trust of coach Jack Ramsay and dined occasionally with Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas. After the NBA franchise won the 1977 NBA title, Walton and Lucas saw “the Schonz” walk into the locker room with his radio equipment, took one look at each other, then picked the broadcaster up and tossed him in the showers.
“It’s a miracle I didn’t get electrocuted,” Schonely said.
The Trail Blazers have decided not to send their television and radio broadcast crews on the road this season. They’re cost-cutting. It’s a small-time move. Fans aren’t happy about it and I don’t blame them.
Maybe it’s a sad by-product of the pandemic, when a bunch of teams figured out they could stick their broadcasters in a remote building, calling the game off a monitor. Those “REMI” (remote integration model) broadcasts have become more common in sports broadcasting over the years. It saves travel expenses, and technically, works. But be sure — a good broadcaster always takes the audience with them — and when they’re nowhere near the action, something is lost.
Dewayne Hankins, the Blazers’ team president, will take the public hit on this one. I won’t go there today. Because we know shots such as this get called from the Vulcan, Inc. mothership in Seattle. That’s where franchise vice chairman Bert Kolde and trustee Jody Allen hang out.
I wish they’d release this beloved franchise from their grip.
It feels more like a chokehold these days.
No TV crew on the road. No radio broadcasters, either. Clearly, this is a franchise that doesn’t understand the value of connection with its fan base. Given that the team travels by charter, what we’re really talking about are some savings on hotel rooms and per diems. Basically, crumbs.
Maybe the Blazers are saving up for a splashy free-agent signing?
Damian Lillard will make $42 million next season. That’s $512,000 a game. The calculus here is mind-blowing stuff. It leaves only one logical takeaway — this is a petty franchise, doing what petty businesses do.
Television broadcaster Kevin Calabro has talent, but he won’t be on the road, sitting with coach Chauncey Billups in a pre-game chat. Radio play-by-play broadcaster Travis Demers is working hard to follow in the footsteps of a couple of legends — Brian Wheeler and Schonely — but Demers won’t actually be in the building when he’s calling the action for 41 road games this season.
It’s not ideal for the broadcast. Worst of all, it disrespects the consumer. More and more, I wonder if the new aim of Trail Blazers, Inc. is to alienate fans to the point where they stop showing up. Or maybe they’re just cleaning up the balance sheet before selling the operation. Either way, it’s a terrible look that is being mocked by industry insiders.
Bob Thompson, the former head of Fox Sports Networks heard about it on Thursday and said, “That is ridiculous. You’re talking about traveling four or five people total. Production crews, all local. The rest of the crew can produce the game from home using the new cloud production methods.
“I’m not aware of any other NBA teams doing this.”
The Blazers are finally league leaders, folks.
Unless, the franchise reverses course and comes to its senses.
Some college football broadcasts on Fox did remote broadcasts last season. The practice has become more common in motor sports, too. And some of the MLS broadcast crews have called road games off a monitor for years. But this is the NBA — the big leagues. Keeping the broadcast crew home… just… feels… little.
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