It’s been a harrowing and frustrating year in Colorado for a lot of reasons, most associated with COVID-19. One of the social side-effects of the epidemic has been the crippling of high school, college and professional sports. MLB, the NHL and NBA are struggling to re-open and conclude their seasons, and the NFL will be challenged in getting its underway.
One remaining frustration uniquely afflicts fans of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche. It started last year before we even knew about coronavirus. I’m referring to the ongoing dispute between Comcast cable TV and the Dish satellite TV network on one side, with Altitude Sports and Entertainment on the other. Comcast and Dish offer packages of TV channels to their subscribers. Altitude is one specific channel offering a mix of professional and amateur sports to a regional broadcast area centered in Denver. Altitude is owned by Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, which also owns the Denver Nuggets, the Colorado Avalanche and the Pepsi Center. That complicates things.
In past years, Comcast and Dish subscribers could watch Nuggets and Avs games on TV as part of their package. Now they can’t and here’s why. Typically, a broadcast TV station pays a team for the exclusive right to broadcast its games, like Channel 4CBS does in Denver for the Broncos. The TV station then recovers that cost, and expects a profit, by selling advertising. Since Kroenke owns both the Nuggets and Avs, and Altitude as well, the middleman is eliminated. In the past, Comcast and Dish have paid Kroenke for rights to broadcast the games in its subscriber packages. (Incidentally, subscribers to DIRECTV can still watch Nuggets and Avs games on Altitude.) Other fans could watch a few Nuggets and Avs games on national networks — like ESPN, TNT and NBC Sports — who broadcast a limited number of NBA and NHL regular season games.
But Comcast and Dish no longer buy broadcast rights from Kroenke. Before the start of this NBA and NHL season, both Comcast and Dish told Kroenke they couldn’t justify the price of Nuggets and Avs broadcasts since the teams’ TV audiences weren’t big enough. When Kroenke balked, Comcast and Dish dropped the teams from their packages. That’s the impasse we’re still at now.
I’m not privy to the internal finances at Kroenke, Comcast or Dish. Nor do I have inside information about other factors involved. I’m just a fan of the Nuggets and Avs and miss watching the games, even more so this year when both teams are having exceptionally good seasons with super-star players and great team synergy. The NBA Championship and Stanley Cup are within their grasps. It’s especially frustrating when COVID-19 prevents us from even going to the games at the Pepsi Center.
Denver, a truly great sports town, may be the only place in the nation that doesn’t have a local broad-audience TV platform for its NBA and NHL franchises. That’s crazy. Stan Kroenke is the Chairman and CEO of a holding company that owns a stable of professional sports teams including the Los Angeles Rams, Colorado Rapids, Colorado Mammoth, the Arsenal Football Club of the English Premier Soccer League and others. His holdings also include a Napa Valley winery, 850,000 acres of ranches and a large real estate development company. Forbes estimates his net worth at $10 billion. And his wife, Ann, is the daughter of Bud Walton, the co-founder of Wal-Mart. I’m not Bernie Sanders so I don’t begrudge that.
But his dispute over broadcast fees with Comcast and Dish is small change in that context. I think he has an obligation to local fans who have supported the Nuggets and Avs on TV and at the arena. As a matter of cash flow, even a bad TV broadcast deal this season would have been better than getting nothing. In the interim, you figure he’s exploring other options for next year; including, perhaps, pay-TV or Internet streaming. True, the absence of fans in the stands since the league shut down in March, and now in the playoffs, is costing him millions; although that wasn’t anticipated during his pre-season battle on broadcast fees.
I understand Comcast and Dish made a rational business decision, but they, too, have a community responsibility and an obligation to home team fans who are their customers. It’s too late for a TV deal this season. And fans can watch the Nuggets and Avs on free national network broadcasts of the playoffs. But all parties involved need to get this fixed before next season.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.