PORTLAND — When the Portland Trail Blazers hired President Chris McGowan in October of 2012, he noticed that more than a few things were missing.
The Blazers had great fans that were loud, passionate and kept the Blazers near the top of the NBA in attendance.
However, the arena didn’t feel like Portland.
The organization lacked information to make data-based decisions or to be able to tell them who their fans were.
They were one of four arenas in the league without a naming rights deal.
In just over a year under McGowan’s leadership, the Blazers have made strides to change all of those things.
Local food vendors in the concourse, a marketing focus on the city of Portland, and a new analytics department to tell them data about who their fans are and where they are from.
The business side of the Blazers is now more like their Basketball Operations department in that they are more able to make data-based decisions unlike previous regimes who went only on instincts.
A 10-year naming rights deal with Moda Health–a partnership focusing on healthy living that McGowan hopes will foster community initiatives to foster healthy lifestyles–that got a seal of approval from outgoing commissioner David Stern.
Not everything smooth sailing, though. Several rounds of lay-offs and an uneasiness in the office were the headlines of the first part of his tenure.
“When you’re part of an organization in transition, it’s not the funnest thing to be around. It was tough,” said McGowan after discussing designs for a new court — that could be made from local lumber –that will be installed next season.
There’s a sense at One Center Court these days that they’ve gone through the tough part, but McGowan still wants to push forward.
“I want people to be comfortable coming to work but I don’t ever want to get complacent,” he said.
The former MLS and NHL executive also had to learn and is still learning the NBA.
When approaching further improvements for the Blazers on the business side, the soccer player shines through.
“We’re going to ask the right questions,” he said using a phrase frequently uttered by soccer commentators.
They used to not even able to ask certain questions such as “How many fans do we have in Vancouver?” Fans whose support the team counts on.
“They drive further so we have to understand that as an organization,” said McGowan. “We have to realize that they are sitting in some bad traffic to come to our games so we have to reward them for that support.”
Plans include more events outside in the Rose Quarter–weather permitting–on game and event nights and the re-opening of a restaurant area in March across from the Moda Center with views of the City for fans to enjoy both before and after games.
McGowan no longer wants fans to feel as though they have to rush in and rush out.
McGowan still feel as though there can be improvements to the in-game experience. He and his marketing team are studying other teams such as Oklahoma City and Golden State.
Things such as the Rip City Relay to engage fans all over the region are things McGowan wants done consistently.
The Blazers also now control the Moda Center under the name of Rip City Management.
“I want a bigger variety of events and I want more concerts here. I don’t want concerts going to Seattle and Vancouver and elsewhere,” he said.
An aspect of the NBA experience area fans have yet to experience in the team’s 44 year history is hosting the NBA All-Star game where for one weekend the NBA world is all in one place.
McGowan cited hotels as a need for their bid in a competitive process. With Nike and Adidas headquartered in their backyard as well as the City of Portland’s popularity growing, McGowan stresses they will put their best foot forward when the time is right with the decision ultimately being up to the NBA.
There’s been no forward movement on the process but McGowan promises an earnest effort to bring Blazers fans an experience that he feels they deserve.
“Our fans are so passionate, to some degree, I think they deserve the All-Star game,” he said.
The transition is over and McGowan promises–with asking the right questions–that exciting things are on the horizon.