TRAIL BLAZERS SCORE IN INTERACTIVE; WITH AN ASSIST FROM OWNER PAUL ALLEN, THIS TEAM CAN'T MISS

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The Portland Trail Blazers may be out of the playoffs, but Paul Allen's pro basketball team leads the league in multimedia.

The Trail Blazers, in conjunction with Mr. Allen's Starwave Corp., may soon be tapped to create an Internet site for the National Basketball Association to promote all of its teams.

The team is already advising the league on Internet strategies. A formal NBA assignment would cement the Trail Blazers' position as one of the most active developers of new-media applications in pro sports.

That's not too surprising considering the team's billionaire owner co-founded Microsoft Corp. with Bill Gates and remains on the cutting edge of new technologies.

The Trail Blazers, with a four-person staff dedicated to interactive projects, is the only NBA team to have launched its own Internet site.

It has also created a software program to automate electronic entertainment at professional sports venues. And it is developing several kiosk projects, including a network of interactive displays for its new arena, set to open later this year.

But the Trail Blazers' marketing game plan ran afoul of the NBA earlier this year, when the league blocked the team's attempt to develop a full-blown site on the Internet's World Wide Web.

In March, the league forced the team to dismantle its home page because the Web's global reach violated NBA marketing rules. NBA teams are allowed to market themselves locally, but the league is in charge of promotions in all other markets.

"We were just a little ahead of the game," said Larry Hitchcock, VP-marketing and communications for the Trail Blazers.

The Trail Blazers' site (http://www.blazers.com) had featured a catalog of team merchandise, player information and statistics, an online magazine and video highlight clips. Now, visitors will find only a list of phone contacts, a mailing list for fans, updates on the new arena and links to related sports and tourism sites.

Other leagues have not been as stringent about enforcing the rules on local marketing. The National Hockey League's new home page (http://www.nhl.com), developed by Gage Marketing, Minneapolis, will include links to existing sites from the San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitols. The league allows teams to distribute information via the Internet, but stops short of permitting online merchandise sales.

The Web setback hasn't slowed the Trail Blazers' interactive offense. Last week it unveiled Game Ops Commander, a point-and-click interface for running sports arena multimedia entertainment such as highlight videos, sound effects and publicity announcements.

In addition to actively developing content for a network of kiosks to install at its new sports facility, the Rose Garden, the franchise has developed "hospitality centers" for travelers at the Portland Airport. The multimedia centers offer a database of hotels and other travel services.

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