Comcast opposes Blazers’ plan to put games on Web

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PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers’ attempt to widen the reach of games televised by Comcast SportsNet Northwest through the use of Web streaming has hit a wall.

Blazers president Larry Miller stated during an Oct. 12, 2009 television appearance on “Trail Blazers Courtside” that the organization planned to broadcast all 15 of its KGW-televised games on the Internet this season. Miller also spoke of a commitment by the Blazers to stream CSN-televised games over the Web “by the end of the calendar year.”

The CSN part of Miller’s speech was widely hailed by Blazer fans, many of whom have struggled for more than two years to watch the team’s games shown on the network.

CSN is a Pacific Northwest sports-themed channel available through Comcast, a paid cable subscription service. CSN will televise 60 Blazer games this season, but the channel is not available to DirecTV and Dish Network satellite subscribers in the regional area. In addition, alternative subscription services, such as the NBA’s “League Pass,” black out Blazer games televised on CSN.

The KGW component of Miller’s promise instantly came to fruition. Individual Blazer games shown this season on KGW — a the local NBC affiliate — have been made available on the Web at blazers.com for $3.99, with the entire 15-game package set at $39.99.

“It’s been great,” said DJ Wilson, president and general manager of KGW.

She added: “The (Blazers) are incredible to work with, and I mean that very sincerely.”

However, 2010 has arrived, and none of the CSN-televised Blazer games have been streamed on the Web. Moreover, no progress is being made on the front, and negotiations have stalled.

In a sign of just how tense the relationship between the Blazers and CSN has become, the Blazers released a single statement to The Columbian when asked Wednesday for an update on Web-streaming negotiations with CSN.

“We are disappointed the carriage distribution hasn’t been resolved,” the Blazers said. “And we are now pursuing all of our rights under contract, which must be done on a confidential basis.”

The Blazers signed an exclusive 10-year, $120-million TV-distribution deal with CSN in 2007.

At the heart of the current dispute between the Blazers and CSN has been the network’s inability to fulfill its promise during original contract negotiations to create a media footprint similar to that of the Fox Sports Network, a source said.

Tim Fitzpatrick, a CSN public relations representative, said the network uses 10 separate carriers and reaches 264 regional communities.

Fitzpatrick did not specifically address whether an agreement had been reached between CSN and the Blazers to stream games on the Web by 2010.

“Our approach has always been to proceed with caution, in order to deliver any fan experience that is consistent in high quality,” Fitzpatrick said. “Because we’ve always wanted to go to market with a product that we’re confident is going to deliver a high quality experience. So, we’ve always proceeded with the view that we need to get it right before we get it first.”

Fitzpatrick stated that there are only four professional sports teams — MLB’s New York Yankees and San Diego Padres; the NBA’s Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers — currently streaming games on the Internet outside of dominant systems used by their leagues.

Fitzpatrick referred to Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia’s streaming of 76ers games as a “trial,” and added that the network has not released subscriber numbers.

“We are looking at it as a way to learn more about what technology options there are, what consumer response is going to be,” Fitzpatrick said.

Asked how the network would respond to DirectTV and Dish Network subscribers who are still unable to watch Blazer games televised on CSN, Fitzpatrick said: “We share your frustrations. We want DirecTV to carry Comcast SportsNet Northwest as badly as any other fan does. But, unfortunately, we’re not in a position to force DirecTV to do so.”

Blazers cut Randolph

The Portland Trail Blazers waived forward Shavlik Randolph on Wednesday, the team announced.

The 6-foot-10, 236-pound Randolph was signed by Portland on Dec. 30 with Portland’s second NBA hardship exemption.

Randolph appeared in two games for the Blazers this season, totaling four points, a rebound and an assist in five minutes of action.

Randolph was waived to prevent his non-guaranteed contract from becoming guaranteed Jan. 10. Should Randolph clear waivers, he could then be re-signed by the Blazers to a 10-day contract. However, a source informed The Columbian it is unlikely the team will attempt reacquire Randolph.

Portland’s roster now stands at 15 players.