Blazers Tickets Are $2. Here’s Who You’ll Sit With.

A pair of George Washingtons buys you a plush red seat in the 300 level, or what’s commonly called the nosebleed section.

Deal Blazers (Michael Raines)

The scene in the Rose Quarter in the minutes before a Blazers tipoff looks much as it always has.

Fans slam beers on the outdoor patio of Dr. Jack’s before making a beeline for the gates. Fathers and sons snap selfies as they lean on the red-and-black letters that spell RIPCITY. Latecomers hustle to the ticket counter and inquire into the intercom which seats are left.

What’s different is the price they hear.

On any given night in this city, you can watch some of the most skilled basketball players on the planet compete on the Moda Center hardwood, and the ticket will set you back as little as $2.

That isn’t a typo. Two dollars. Less than half the price of a coffee-shop latte. On the online resale market hosted on sites like Seat Geek, that pair of George Washingtons buys you a plush red seat in the 300 level, or what’s commonly called the nosebleed section. (At the 100 level, closer to courtside, seats run as little as $41.) Only Memphis Grizzlies tickets regularly resell for less. By our unscientific count, it’s the lowest Portland Trail Blazers tickets have cost in at least a decade.

That’s because the team is awful.

(Michael Raines)

In the offseason, the Blazers traded away Damian Lillard, perhaps the greatest player in franchise history and certainly the most adored. The rookie drafted to replace him, Scoot Henderson, had such a rocky debut that pundits began whispering the word “bust.” Nearly all the players described as the Blazers’ future core have lost significant stretches of the season to injury. “The Blazers are bad, but in a charming way,” concluded sports website The Ringer in a recent NBA appraisal. Meanwhile, team chair Jody Allen keeps rebuffing the advances of Nike tycoon Phil Knight to buy the team, and the most fearful fans worry she’s eyeing a move to Seattle or Vegas (for more concerns, see this story).

Even Blazermaniacs wearing rose-colored goggles concede the team is a hard watch—and the result is a slackening demand for seats. Official attendance on a slow night sits at 17,900, or 92% of capacity, but a gaze across the arena suggests a quarter of the seats are empty.

Related: How bad will it get for the Blazers? Two lifelong fans discuss scenarios.

(Michael Raines)

In the long run, this is a dangerous trend for a small-market basketball team that has countered the realities of big-league professional sports by providing a jolt of civic pride.

In the short term, it’s a bargain. It means fans who previously couldn’t afford a ticket now find Moda Center’s doors thrown wide open. (In a statement, the Blazers said they are “striving to ensure all fans have an opportunity to attend games and be a part of the Trail Blazers family.”)

And if you listen hard enough, you can hear faint sounds of hope, up in the stadium rafters.

(Michael Raines)

Nosebleed seats carry the unfortunate reputation of being the liminal space of any sports or live spectacle. You are somehow both there, a participant of the event, and also paradoxically not there, given how elevated and away from the court you are. As a cheap-seat attendee, your perspective has shrunk down to the level of a board game. If this were the Titanic, you’d be in the boiler room.

But that wasn’t what we found up near the championship banners.

(Michael Raines)

Spending time at three games over the course of a week, we met people who yelled louder, rejoiced harder, and engaged with each other more than fans we observed in the lower bowl. Not only did the affordability of the seats make it possible for them to see a game in person, it also brought in a new wave of fans both young and old, lured Seattleites rooting for their closest “home” team, and even provided a safe place for one man’s journey with sobriety.

Gone was the cynicism and status-seeking that suffocates the joy of experiencing a game. Instead there was a collective sense of enthusiasm and support—something the Blazers could use right now.

Here’s who we met in the $2 seats.

Blazers vs. Pelicans, Feb. 10. (Michael Raines)


Saturday, Feb. 10

Lowest ticket price: $14

Final score: Pelicans 93, Trail Blazers 84

(Michael Raines)

Jerry McKinley

Born and raised in Portland, McKinley has been rooting for the Blazers since a squad led by Rasheed Wallace went head to head with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2000 Western Conference finals. Sure, the Blazers blew a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 7, but they won a lifelong fan. McKinley was 19 years old at the time. He was 44 when he attended his first game in person—last week. The tickets were a gift, but upon seeing the prices, he’s looking forward to dragging his two kids back even more this season. So how long until the team starts winning again? “Hey, we came to watch these guys win. Period,” McKinley said. “If they don’t, we still love them. Period.”

(Michael Raines)

Stacey Jones and Zey’Elle

As part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, Big Sister Stacey Jones brought along her sponsored little sister, Zey’Elle, as a way to spend quality time together during Black History Month. (The program provides the tickets at a discount, although it’s probably not necessary these days.) Jones has been a Blazers fan since first moving to Portland from the Bay Area more than 16 years ago, but has only attended a few games. She misses Lillard but loves the opportunity to see Anfernee Simmons play. For Zey’Elle, a teenager who grew up in a family of obsessive Blazers fans, supporting the local team was just a part of growing up. It was like breathing. But Saturday’s game against the Pels was one of the first she’s attended. The pair sat in the very back row, against the arena wall. Zey’Elle said she preferred it that way. “I actually have some space to breathe, and honestly, it doesn’t feel all that far away. I kinda even feel safer up here, away from the crowd.”

(Michael Raines)

Charles Saulberry

For Saulberry, the Blazers are the closest team he’s got. “I’ve been a big fan of the Blazers since my hometown team, the Seattle Sonics, left us back in 2008,” he said. A father in his mid-50s, Saulberry hasn’t seen a Blazers game live since the late Kobe Bryant was still playing. But by spending less than $20 a pop for these tickets, Saulberry could bring along the whole family and travel down from Seattle. “This team has grit, and you can’t sleep on them, win or lose, and even though they’ve dipped a bit, they will never give up…so we can’t give up on them,” he said. Saulberry plans to come down more often if the 300-level tickets stay inexpensive, although he jokingly mentioned happily taking some courtside ones.

Blazers vs. Timberwolves, Feb. 13. (Michael Raines)


Tuesday, Feb. 13

Lowest ticket price: $3

Final score: Timberwolves 121, Trail Blazers 109

(Michael Raines)

Hillary Hampton

In his 70s, Hampton’s been going to games for several decades now. “I used to be going when it was over in the Memorial Coliseum,” he said. In the past 20 years or so, he’s tried to hit as many games as possible, and this season alone he has already attended close to 20 home games. “I miss the times of Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter and all them playing together,” Hampton said. “I don’t really know about all these new guys, and every time you think they’re on a roll, somebody gets hurt. But I’m still rooting for them, and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have some real love.” But why so far from the action? Hampton simply prefers it. “I like my seats here. I like where I am at. I like watching the Blazers from this point, and always have. This is just where I’ve always been, you know.”

(Michael Raines)

Kaley and Maria Caratachea

Like many of the 300-level fans, Kaley Caratachea purchased tickets—her first—from a youth activities promotion. “I bought these tickets through my nieces’ dance program,” she said, “which wasn’t a bunch of money, so it was a no-brainer.” She was excited to support the Blazers, but was also happy to just enjoy the show, the nachos and getting to spend some quality time with her mother, Maria. “It’s kind of our girls’ night out, which we don’t always get, so we’re just going to enjoy it, no matter who wins.”

(Michael Raines)

Lindley Bynum

Bynum moved to Portland 16 years ago from Idaho. But one of her sons just started playing basketball. Thus: Christmas gifts, again through a charitable promotion, this time for the Catholic Youth Organization League. “We’d obviously love to be down lower, but we really couldn’t afford it, so these spots are great,” Bynum said. “Hopefully with being here, these two”—she pointed down at her sons—”will get more excited by a sport.” Both kids gave a brief smile before simultaneously devouring their hamburgers and fries.

(Michael Raines)

Johnny Cortez-Galindo

Cortez-Galindo, 33, grew up in Fresno, Calif. He arrived in Portland last April. He’s been sober for three years, and is focused on helping others get clean and trying to maintain that for himself. He’s only missed one or two home games this year—in part because attending the games is part of his regimen for sobriety. He likes having activities at night that keep him away from unhealthy urges. Having been a track runner in high school, Cortez-Galindo often runs to the games after work at Safeway, a trek that can be up to 3 miles, depending on where he’s working that day. Going to a lot of games means seeking cheap seats. “Have you seen season tickets on Ticketmaster? It’s crazy,” he said. “I usually sit up here. Depending on when I buy the tickets, they could be $5 to $6 a game. That’s what I can pay. There was one home game and the ticket for a seat was like $65, which is like 10 games up here, you know.”

Blazers vs. Timberwolves. (Michael Raines)


Thursday, Feb. 15

Lowest ticket price: $2

Final score: Timberwolves 128, Trail Blazers 91

(Michael Raines)

Thuan and Dhinh

Thuan and her best friend, Dhinh, arrived from Los Angeles just hours before the game. Having never been to Portland, they figured: What better way to kick off their vacation than to have a quintessential Portland experience? Also, it was one of the cheapest tourist attractions that night in the city. “We 100% came out tonight because the tickets were, like, $6 or something,” Thuan said. “I’m not a big Blazers fan but my boyfriend back in Pasadena is, and I came to watch the game and get him some merch.” When asked what else was on the itinerary, Dhinh chimed in: “We’re excited for Powell’s, the waterfalls, and this!”

(Michael Raines)

Anniva and Ty Dorman

Lifelong Washougal residents, the Dormans have traveled down from Washington for the last 40 home games; they’re season ticket holders for the past two seasons. “Ty and I work different schedules, so half the week I come down and the other half of the week, he does,” Anniva said. “Tonight’s worked out well since we both were able to make it out.” The only game they missed this season was the Jan. 17 contest during the ice storm. (To be fair, ice also prevented Blazers center DeAndre Ayton from attending that game.) While the Dormans don’t have a lot of faith that the team will get better this season, or maybe even next, they’re in for the long run: “We’ve been coming to games on and off since 1997, so we’ve seen a lot of ups and downs.” For Anniva, one of the biggest perks of being season ticket holders up in the 300s (aside from the price) is the community. “We’ve been sitting in row C seats this whole season. The people right in front of us here, they’re season ticket holders. The ones right here to the left are season tickets, the ones behind us, season tickets. So all of us around here have made a little Blazer family for ourselves.”

(Michael Raines)

Matt Robinson

After moving from Idaho five years ago, Robinson was allowed to be a Blazers fan only after his father did a goofy ceremonial dance, freeing him from his lifelong duty to support the New York Knicks. “As a somewhat new resident to the city, I love coming to these games and feeling like part of the tribe,” Robinson said. “I’m not at all optimistic about the future of this team, but I’m supportive. I guess I’m a realist.” Still, he has notes for the front office: Get a T-shirt slingshot that reaches the nosebleed seats. “Straight up, the T-shirt slingshot never gets up here, and I got two boys that I usually bring with me and they just want a Blazers shirt so bad, but it’s just never reached our height. So yeah, seats are fine, but maybe some more team engagement would be nice.”

(Michael Raines)

Tim Olson

Olson’s been a Blazer fan since 1977, when they won the NBA championship. At 67, his passion hasn’t wavered. “I’ve been going to games for decades,” he said. Olson and his wife, who declined to be named, are quarter-season ticket holders, meaning they purchase a package of seats for 10 home games a season: “You can’t beat the price.” He was disappointed with the season but continued to believe things could change for the better. “We think there’s some hope here with the rebuilding of the team and getting some younger guys,” Olson said. “We really like Scoot, we really like Shaedon [Sharpe]—actually there have been a lot of really good players coming in lately.”

(Michael Raines)

Celicia and Sophia

If the Blazers provide some fans with a link to the past, they also need to draw a new generation. That future is Celicia and Sophie. The close friends, both in their early 20s, came out to the game mostly motivated by Celicia’s love for the team. Celicia has been a lifelong fan “since I could remember, probably even when I was a baby. I’m now coming into my adult years as this team is a baby, so it’s cool to be a part of this new chapter as I grow.” Sophie, by contrast, doesn’t follow sports. But she loves the energy and vibe that comes from a game. Celicia adds, “It was, literally, like $10 total for tickets and we bought them today. And I was just like ‘Why wouldn’t we go?’” Would they attend more games this season? They both looked at each other and in unison shouted, “ABSOLUTELY!”

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