A highly anticipated season for the Portland Trail Blazers opened on Tuesday night with a national broadcast on TNT.
Unfortunately for many local fans, Tuesday's contest is just one of 30 regular season Blazer games scheduled to appear on area television providers Charter Communications, DirecTV and Dish Network.
For a second straight year, Comcast SportsNet Northwest, which owns the rights to 55 Blazer games and other exclusive content, will not be available in the Rogue Valley except on AshlandTV.
"We love the Blazers, we love what the GM has done, but the Blazers have been irresponsible in respect to their fans," said Chuck Cushman, executive director of the Blazer Fan Access Coalition. "The Blazers are going to have a wonderful season and 25 to 50 percent of the Blazer viewing audience won't see the games."
Comcast SportsNet Northwest purchased the Blazers' television rights for $130 million over 10 years and launched last November. The channel also owns rights to some University of Oregon and NHL content.
Negotiations between Charter and Comcast representatives have currently stalled, said Craig Watson, vice president of communications for Charter's Western Division.
"Nothing has fundamentally changed from the Comcast side and that's unfortunate," Watson said. "We've said all along that we are interested in the channel and many of our customers are as well. But the deal on the table is unreasonable."
Watson said the cost to Charter of adding the channel is "millions of dollars over the course of the contract."
"The question is how do we recoup that loss?" Watson said. "The only way is to raise the rate to 100 percent of customers when 100 percent aren't interested in the channel."
Watson has asked Comcast to consider allowing Charter to place the channel on a sports tier or on a pay-per-view basis to avoid an increase in cost to all Charter customers.
"They are not interested in that at this time," Watson said.
David Manougian, Comcast's executive vice president of sports programming, said negotiations with all providers continue and "it's our top priority to try to get as broad of distribution as possible."
"It's frustrating because we want great sports fans to see the product," Manougian said. "We are anxious to get on as many distributors as possible, and we will do everything on our part to make that happen."
In regards to the channel being on a sports tier, Manougian added: "We feel that based on the popularity of the channel, it deserves to be on a platform that is more widely distributed."
Comcast SportsNet Northwest has seen considerable growth in the past year, now reaching more than 200 communities in Oregon and Washington.
Country Cablevision, serving the Salem area, Monroe Telephone, Canby Telcom and Comcast Cable as well as Verizon FiOS in the Seattle area have added the channel in the last month.
Manougian declined to specify the cost of the channel for distributors.
"All of those distributors thought that the product was a very good value and made sense," Manougian said. "That's a confirmation that we did our due diligence."
Cushman, a resident of Battle Ground, Wash., said his organization plans to resume its boycott of Comcast following the election season.
"It's embarrassing for the Blazers that they took this big contract with Comcast and didn't protect its customers," Cushman said. "Comcast has done this all over the country. They don't care about the fans."
Comcast continues to advertise locally, urging fans to "demand Comcast SportsNet" by contacting DirecTV, Dish Network or Charter.
"We don't particularly appreciate them," Watson said of the advertisements. "It's as frustrating for us as we know it is for our customers. All we are asking is customers consider who is in the driver's seat, and it's Comcast SportsNet Northwest. Our position is fair on behalf of the full range of customer's interest."
Meanwhile, until a resolution is made, area fans of Oregon's lone professional sports team will be left in the dark for the majority of what is expected to be an exciting season in Portland.
"The team is young and popular and on the move," said Tim Fitzpatrick, a Comcast SportsNet spokesman. "It's frustrating for us not to reach as many viewers as we want. These negotiations are part of growing a channel. We want fans to be patient as we get this done."
Reach reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail email@example.com