Just as the Trail Blazers’ roster and style of play has changed considerably this season, so too has Portland’s broadcast.
As you’ve surely noticed if you’ve tuned into ROOT SPORTS PLUS, Trail Blazers broadcasts this season feature a host of next-generation features meant to improve not only the aesthetics, but how pertinent information about the game is conveyed.
Between bringing in new broadcasters, utilizing advanced analytics, updated and upgraded graphics, Second Spectrum player tracking, encouraging fan participation in the broadcast through social media and a significant increase in behind-the-scenes and exclusive content, the Trail Blazers as an organization have made significant investments in turning what was already a quality viewing experience into an industry leader.
“I think the goal is really to provide the viewers another level of viewing experience, and that goes through many different concepts,” said Jeff Curtin, Portland’s director of broadcasting. “Micing up players, advanced stats, bringing in Cory Jez, our new broadcaster, giving the viewers new graphics that they haven’t seen before on broadcast and hopefully telling the story of the game through all those ideas.”
Some of the changes the Trail Blazers have made to their broadcast this season...
CORY JEZ, ANALYTICS INSIDER
In an effort to increase both the utilization of statistics in the broadcast and fans understanding of what those numbers mean, the team has brought in Analytics Insider Cory Jez as a broadcaster alongside Kevin Calabro, Lamar Hurd and Brooke Olzendam. Jez, having previously served as director of analytics in both NBA and MLS front offices, joins the Trail Blazers this season as the NBA’s first full-time on-air statistical analyst.
“Our hope with the ‘analytics segments’ within the broadcasts is to expose viewers to the types of metrics and data that the coaching staff and front office is using throughout the season,” said Jez. “Data has become ubiquitous in the NBA, and - like it or not - teams have entire departments of people dedicated to working with that data to help their team.
“Almost no staff is looking at basic metrics like points per game. Instead they are looking at things like The Four Factors or data about specific skills, like how often a team will switch the pick & roll, and how players like Damian Lillard can exploit that when it happens.”
Jez joins the broadcast multiple times a game remotely from his home studio in order to provide context to what fans are seeing on the court through the use of advanced stats and Second Spectrum tracking data. As the former head of the analytics for the Utah Jazz, Jez was responsible for developing tools that allowed others to analyze players, though in his role with the Trail Blazers, he’s is doing a bit of both.
“My main job is to use these same types of platforms (though I am using publicly available data, not information developed internally by the team) to find metrics that can help fans better understand what is going on with the team and the league,” said Jez. “It has definitely shifted my preparation from a software-first focus to an analysis-first focus. I’ll often times start by watching clips of an opponent or taking a quick look at their Four Factors, and then see what types of in-depth metrics make sense to explain something about how Portland or their opponent is playing.”
Trail Blazers fans have long been some of the most knowledgeable in the NBA, but the hope is that Jez’s segments can help viewers better understand analytics and how they’re applied on the court and in the locker room.
“More than anything else, I hope they take away that analytics is really just more precise information about the game they love,” said Jez. “I love basketball as much as any other fan; and what I think is so cool about analytics is that it can help us better understand what is happening on the court. Instead of just saying ‘That guy can get a bucket,’ we can use things like tracking data to help us understand how and where he gets those buckets.”
“We always say that our viewers are so intelligent about the game of basketball in our market, and I think this just takes that to the next level,” said Curtin. “It’s a deeper dive in the analytics and the advanced stats, which we’re all kind of learning together as a production crew with Cory Jez. So it’s really been a fun experience to do that deep dive of what these numbers mean and how it applies to the game.”
A NEXT-GEN APPROACH TO DISPLAYING STATISTICS
Relaying statistics has always played an important role in game broadcasts. Be it tracking percentages from the field, three-point and free throw lines or disparities in rebounds, assists or any of the other counting stats, giving viewers up-to-date information about the numbers that define the likelihood of success in a given game have always been a staple of NBA broadcasts.
But this season, the Trail Blazers have taken a “next-gen” approach to the utilization and visualization of statistics in various ways. The standard box scores used on broadcast have been modernized by pulling in different, less traditional statistics and using new graphics to display that information. The use of the Second Spectrum basketball database, which “provides an unparalleled machine understanding of every game,” has allowed for statistical information, such as what percentage a player shoots depending on where he is on the court, to be displayed in real time while the game is in progress.
And in an effort to give better context to some of the standard statistics, the broadcast is utilizing new data visualizations that not only display a players’ statistics, but where the player ranks in the NBA in terms of those statistics.
There’s the Percentile Spectrum Slider, which uses a custom built color gradient to allow fans to quickly understand things such as where Drew Eubanks ranks when it comes to effective field goal percentage, points scored per shot and points scored per possession. And the Percentile Bar Chart, which provides a statistical snapshot using color-coded graphs in order to give fans a quick and easy way to contextualize how a player or team stacks up in various important metrics.
By using new visual elements to display information, along with Jez’s contextualization and analysis of those elements, the hope is that Blazers fans, or anyone watching their broadcast, will come away with a better understanding of the game and the statistical performances that often make the difference between wins and losses.
BEHIND-THE-SCENES AND EXCLUSIVE VIDEO CONTENT
In addition to coming up with new strategies to deliver statistical content, the Trail Blazers have made a point this season of bringing more exclusive video elements to their broadcast.
In addition to The Trail, a documentary series that tells the story of Portland’s season through behind-the-scenes footage from practices, games and interviews with players, coaches and staff, the Trail Blazers have integrated various new video elements into their broadcast this season. There are additional cameras stationed in various parts of Moda Center, including on the scorers table where players check in to enter the game, that provide a new level of access to viewers.
But few things have provided more of a window into the inner workings of the team and the thoughts of the players and coaches than increasing the number of “mic’d up” segments this season. In the past, players or coaches wearing mics during games was mostly reserved for national broadcasts, but this season, the Trail Blazers have utilized that technology on their local broadcasts to give fans a better understanding of the way teams communicate during games.
With these changes, along with a few more that are in the works -- expect to see a “second screen” broadcast featuring former players some time later this season -- the Trail Blazers are striving to better serve their fans while being a leader in the sports broadcast industry.
“I think the response has been really good,” said Curtin. “We’ve seen a lot of positive comments from fans and viewers about the additional graphics and some of the new segments we’re doing. So overall, I think it’s been well-received.”