Chris McGowan has been a breath of fresh air as President of the Portland Trail Blazers. McGowan has operated with more transparency than his predecessor Larry Miller. He has been aggressive in expanding the portfolio of the Blazers, introducing Arena Football, thinking about the NHL and opening new revenue streams like selling the naming rights of the Rose Garden to Moda.
One more thing with McGowan: No more false sellouts for the Blazers.
The sellout streak was over long before the Blazers officially stopped tacking empty and fake sellouts onto a streak that turned from a point of pride and excitement to a number full of deception and disconnect.
McGowan said enough, and soon after his first season as Blazers GM began, the team officially didn’t sellout their first home game in 195 tries.
A new sellout streak didn’t start on Saturday.
The Blazers’ announced attendance was 20,028, about 1,000 seats short of a full house. There certainly weren’t that many people in the arena, where blocks of empty seats were conspicuous on TV and obvious in person.
And that was amazing, considering it was the Blazers’ home opener, against the Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs. Portland has an exciting young team this year. They can compete. Besides, this is Rip City, right!? This is the city with one major sports team, the city renowned across basketball for its bad weather and Blazermania.
Now this is the team that couldn’t sellout their home opener.
It’s amazing to think about it. The Blazers won Saturday night too, beating the vaunted Spurs behind big performances from star players in an exhilarating contest. It was a fun game.
But there were also people at the arena protesting Moda Health, and a whole lot more grumbling about the Moda signage and logos everywhere in the place. This ain’t the Rose Garden anymore, folks.
Yeah, most teams in every league have sponsored stadiums. The Blazers were behind the times in a sense. But yeesh, couldn’t we just have our Rose Garden? The RG was special and unique; the Moda Center is just another advertisement for just another company.
The music blared during plays, and the sound effects scored more points than the players. As the Blazers approached 100 points in a close, pulsating game, McDonald’s Egg McMuffins were promoted throughout the arena. Because the question on everyone’s minds was surely, as the game program asked, “Who Will the McDonald’s Egg McMuffin 100-Point Scorer be?”
Actually, the promised MICK-E-DEES chant didn’t gain much momentum. Some fans still chanted CHA-LU-PA, CHA-LU-PA. That was an ad too, but at least that was our ad.
One flip through the Blazers’ program would have revealed promoted signs like “Mania in the Moda.” It’s almost like those 20,000 people walked into a commercial and a basketball game broke out.
What does it mean to be a Blazers fan anymore? Where is the authenticity left? What separates the Blazers and their fans from the pack? It’s hard to say right now.
And yet, you can’t stop this town loving their basketball team. The Blazers may very well have sold out their opener, if not for a game just a few miles up the road in Seattle. You can’t stop this town loving their basketball team.
Portland Timbers – Seattle Sounders. MLS Cup Playoffs.
The Seattle tifo read, “Welcome To Your Nightmare.” It was probably directed at the Portland team at CenturyLink Field, but it may have been meant for the team in the Moda Center.
The Timbers are the Blazers nightmare.
The Timbers won 2-1, and as they have rolled through MLS this year, more and more people have discovered a new love.
The authenticity, realism and identity of the Portland Timbers are what make the club. Whether you like Timbers soccer better than Blazers basketball is entirely a matter of personal preference, but there is no mistaking the sharp contrast between the two experiences.
There is noise from a loud speaker at Jeld-Wen Field. There is no t-shirt gun. There is no music during games. There is a distinct lack of corporate America inside Timbers games. The game is what matters.
What you’ll immediately notice is the hallowed traditions, during the national anthem, during the 80th minute, during the moments after goals and after games.
The noise comes from the fans, just as it should. The singing lasts for 90 minutes plus. Sometimes after big wins, the fans just don’t leave. They keep singing and keep dancing and keep saluting their boys deep into the night.
After a big goal at Jeld-Wen, such is the intense joy from the Timbers Army, the body can’t even muster the strength to stop screaming and start signing their after-goal salute.
The same kind of noise exists at Blazers games. There is a big fourth quarter run from the home team, capped off by a three or breakaway dunk and a timeout by the opposing coach. Fans jump and cheer and yell so loudly throughout the whole stoppage of play the timeout is rendered useless. You can’t coach when you can’t hear.
That’s how the Memorial Coliseum rocked. The building shook after moments like these.
But that noise is all drowned out by the stereo music and the ad reads during games now. You just want to ask, “Can’t the fans have a word once in a while?”
Simply put, the Timbers are a breath of fresh air. I heard from fans at the Blazers game that some of the biggest cheers of the night were reserved for the announcement of the Timbers score. The Oregonian sent their one sports columnist to Seattle. When quizzed about it on Twitter, he said, “I go where the story is.”
People have given up their Blazers tickets for Timbers tickets. They like rocking the world again, not being rocked by special effects.
They like being part of something bigger than themselves. They like the signing. They like the soccer. They like the players, who on average are paid almost three million dollars less than NBA players.
The two teams aren’t necessarily competing for fans. Many Portlanders support both clubs. But with the Timbers sure to outdraw the Blazers this year, the pressure is on. In this market, MLS is Portland’s second major sport.
The two teams are competing for sponsorship dollars. There’s only so much money to go around in this market. Thing is, the Timbers won’t sell their soul for cash.
My guess is that as long as the Timbers are still playing this year, the Blazers are going to have to take a backseat.
Then they’ll have to take a long look in the mirror.