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EGGERS: Breaking down the business of the Blazers

There's no question Chris McGowan has gotten plenty done in his year-plus as president/chief executive officer of the Trail Blazers.

On Tuesday, in a roundtable briefing with "selected" members of the Portland media, the 40-year-old executive and subordinates Vince Ircandia and Tyler Howell reflected on what has been accomplished, and what yet remains on their plate, with the business side of the NBA franchise.

After a scan of a "midseason metrics" report and a question-and-answer session, I left the Rose Quarter with a better measure of McGowan's achievements and vision for the future, though I make no claim of omniscience.MCGOWAN

Let's tackle some of the issues, and I'll try to help decipher for the Blazer fan reading this article in semi-coherent fashion:

• The Blazers sent out a letter Wednesday to season ticket-holders, announcing an increase of an average of 5 percent for season tickets for the 2014-15 season. Before any of us could draw out our pens, McGowan counseled that it's not across the board, that in some sections the cost will go down.

Included in the information we received was a multi-colored Moda Center seating chart with 30 season-ticket price levels, ranging from $10 for the 300-level nosebleed baseline seats to $166 for courtside. By my calculations, that means you pay $1,620, plus preseason and playoffs, for two of the cheap seats and $13,604 for a pair in Jack Nicholson territory.

(Preseason tickets, for the first time, are cheaper than for the regular season, McGowan said.)

McGowan's people did statistical section-by-section analysis of which seats were most and least popular with fans to determine pricing. Looks to me as if the best buy for the bargain shopper next season might be the seats in sections 106, 107, 117 and 118 behind each basket on the lower level. They dropped from $70.50 a year ago to $65, and they are reasonably close with good viewing potential.

Another good buy would seem to be on the baseline sections of the 200 level -- $39, down from $50. Ircandia said it's the lowest price offering in the lower bowl in "10-plus years."

Time will tell how the new ticket prices play with the Portland market. A year ago, the average ticket price rose $2.50 (at least that's what we're told), and they've done well this season. It's certainly tied to the success the Blazers have hadon the court, but it also will be a reflection on the economy and availability of discretionary income.

The Blazers report they are 19th in the NBA in average ticket price. But according to the website vividseats.com, they currently have the 14th-highest median ticket price ($66) for the second half of the season. The club's median ticket price at the start of the season was $92, which was also 14th. So the drop from the season opener to now is about 30 percent.

• I've not been naive enough to think the Blazers haven't papered the house for years, at least occasionally announcing sellouts when they weren't sellouts and filling seats with either freebies or cut-rate buys. But I was under the impression that the listed capacity (19,980) was accurate.

When the Blazers have announced crowds in excess of 20,000 -- it happened in 25 of 41 home regular-season games last season -- I assumed that meant the extra bodies were standing-room only. That's only partly true, we were told.

"We had more seats than the capacity we were announcing," McGowan admitted.

In December, the Blazers quietly removed 700 seats from the Moda Center. Why? McGowan considered the capacity a little too big for this size of market. Now, he said, it's a veritable 19,980, which he claimed leaves it as the third-largest arena in the NBA behind Detroit's Palace of Auburn Hills (22,076) and Chicago's United Center (20,917). Truth is, there are also Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena (20,562), Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center (20,328) and Washington's Verizon Center (20,290). By my tabulation, that makes the Moda Center sixth-largest.

But wait. There is standing-room only potential -- upwards of 500, McGowan said. (A Wikipedia listing calls Moda Center capacity 20,709 with standing room.) The Blazer executive said the club already has been selling standing room tickets "on an occasional basis" this season. That includes the potential for standing room in suites.

Anyway, while McGowan made it clear he doesn't want to throw his predecessors under the bus, he wants to make attendance figures more legitimate.

He already has all but eliminated single-game and multi-game package deals that undercut season ticket-holders, he said. Every NBA team announces a figure for "tickets distributed" and not a turnstile count, but McGowan vowed he "wants more bodies in the building" and will require "higher standards" to call a game a sellout.

If that's the case, I don't understand the need to remove any seats. If a sellout isn't the big goal, why not have as many seats as possible to cover the big games and the playoffs?

This has some precedent, by the way. Few recall that the Rose Garden opened in 1995 with a capacity listed as 21,401. For some reason, the number was increased to 21,538 in 1997. The next year, after only 10 listed sellouts for the 1997-98 season, owner Paul Allen chose to downsize to 19,980 to protect the "aura" of a sellout. This despite ranking third in the league in attendance that season behind Chicago and Charlotte.

• Then there is the issue of single-game variable pricing, which has been implemented for the first time this season with the idea of ranking opponents in terms of sale-ability.

McGowan said the important thing is that the Blazers will never sacrifice the value of season tickets, that prices will be on the average 29 percent better for the season ticket-holder than by getting them on a single-game basis through the Blazers or secondary merchandisers.

I can't verify that, other than to say McGowan understands the importance of protecting the domain of season ticket-holders. It's the reason he has done away with cut-rate deals to fill seats.

• The Blazers currently sell about 12,000 full season tickets. They'd like to get that up to about 15,500 tickets, Ircandia said. McGowan wants to always keep between 4,000 and 5,000 seats available on a per-game basis.

• A season-ticket renewal for 2014-15 submitted by March 7 allows the fan to purchase tickets for the first round of the playoffs at the regular-season price. No question that's a very good deal.

• The last time the Blazers finished in the black was during the 2002-03 season. McGowan said the club is working toward profitability, and expects to get there for the 2015-16 campaign. "We're getting very close," he said. "We need to generate more sponsorship revenue."

• McGowan said the Blazers are selling out all 66 Moda Center suites on a nightly basis, but only 40 on full-year plans. More of the latter is a major goal.

• The Blazers will run their ticket exchange program through Ticketmaster beginning on July 1. I have no idea if this is a good thing, though McGowan insists it will be.

• Three in-house projects -- "the largest we've done in recent history," McGowan said -- will take place at Moda Center following the season. He wouldn't specify what they are, but said they will be ready by September and/or October.

• The Blazers will "within a week or so" announce the name of the restaurant situated where "The Game" was last season in the Rose Quarter adjacent to the Moda Center. It will open March 3. Operated by Portland's Levy Restaurants, the food and beverage service at Moda, it will have a variety of fare. "Small-plate, very Portland-like," McGowan said. With picnic benches and garage doors. My gosh, you can drive your truck right inside!

For now, the new restaurant will be open only on game nights. The hope here is that it can be enough of an attraction to make it a destination citizens will want to visit throughout the year. Something even better, perhaps, than Friday's Front Row, which died after about a year and a half in the early days of the Rose Garden.

• Like his predecessors, McGowan pledged to try to stage more concerts and family events on non-game nights at Moda Center. He is also very much in favor of staging an NBA All-Star game here sometime in the future. That's a good thing, since nearly every city in the league has had it at some point.

It's a near-forgotten fact that the NBA granted the city an All-Star Game back in the '80s, then rescinded it when it decided only to host the game in major metro areas. When the league reversed course a few years later, it never came back to Portland. They owe us one.

Toronto's Air Canada Centre will host the 2016 game. McGowan and Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Toronto's Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, worked together with Anschutz Entertainment Group in Los Angeles.

"I'm going to consult with Tim, find out what worked for (Toronto) and do all we can to put a bid together for here," McGowan said.

The NBA has often used the lack of a major-capacity hotel against Portland's chances of hosting. I've always considered it an excuse, since there are plenty of large downtown hotels near the arena. But the fact is, it's a criteria the league uses. The Blazers are very much in favor of the idea of a convention-center hotel, which puts them in a minority, it would seem, at least among the city's taxpayers. We'll see what happens there.

• The new wi-fi hook-up at the Moda Center "has been a monstrous project" with some glitches, McGowan admitted. "It's going to continue to improve, though. It will rock as one of the best in the industry when we get things worked out."

• The Blazers continue to be a major television draw. Ratings have increased dramatically for KGW (62 percent) and CSN (55 percent) from a year ago. Current ratings are the highest since the 2006-07 season, the Blazers say. Portland ranks second for local TV broadcasts and third among cable broadcasts for Western Conference teams.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers