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While Denver sports fans inside Ball Arena have spent the season watching Mikko Rantanen rack up points for the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokić throw down triple-doubles seemingly every night, many fans at home have been left in the dark—literally. The reason? Ongoing local TV blackouts for the teams, thanks to a years-long battle between statewide cable providers and Altitude Sports and Entertainment—the regional sports network operated by Kroenke Sports and Entertainment (KSE), the company that owns the Colorado Avalanche, Denver Nuggets, and several other sports franchises around Colorado.
Since the Altitude Sports channel launched in 2004, fans with subscriptions to major cable providers could tune in to watch their teams with no issues for years. But in August 2019, DISH Network dropped Altitude upon the expiration of their 15-year contracts, and nearly every other major cable subscription service followed suit—including Comcast, Colorado’s largest provider. Negotiations to strike new contracts have since soured and led to a drawn-out antitrust lawsuit between Altitude and Comcast, leaving thousands of fans with TV blackouts for the third season in a row. And the Nuggets, despite their success (not to mention having the reigning league MVP on their team), are on pace to have the lowest local TV rating in the NBA in at least the past 15 years.
Though the companies are set to remain in discussions over the coming months, a resolution to the nearly three-year dispute still seems up in the air. So even though the Nuggets take on the Golden State Warriors April 16 in the first round of the NBA playoffs, and the Avs are on the brink of clinching the NHL’s Central Division ahead of their playoffs in May, fans wanting to watch the respective playoff runs on TV shouldn’t get their hopes up. Ahead of the postseason and the companies’ next settlement meeting in June, we put together a refresher on the dispute.
April 2000: American businessman and billionaire Stan Kroenke, the founder and namesake of KSE, becomes the sole owner of the Avalanche and Nuggets, buying the teams and Ball Arena (formerly the Pepsi Center) for roughly $450 million. The seller, Charlie Lyons of Ascent Entertainment Group Inc., had been responsible for developing and financing the shared arena and moving the Avalanche to Denver from Quebec.
September 4, 2004: Kroenke launches the Altitude Sports network as a TV home for Avs and Nuggets games, broadcasting games to local viewers and nine other neighboring states and forging a direct competitor to the FSN Rocky Mountain regional sports channel (now known as AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain). By the end of the year, Kroenke would add the Colorado Rapids and Colorado Mammoth to his growing sports empire. Over the ensuing decade, Kroenke will gobble up more media properties, including a number of Denver area radio stations and the Outdoor Channel. KSE would eventually become the sole entity of not just ownership, but also viewership, for Kroenke’s teams.
August 28, 2019: The deal between Colorado-based DISH Network and Altitude expires as DISH “[fought] back against the broken regional sports business model,” saying it no longer wants all customers to pay for TV just a few watch. Three days later, as their contracts with Altitude also expire, Comcast—Colorado’s largest cable provider—and DirecTV follow suit, accusing Altitude of demanding unjustified price increases against the cable companies.
October 31, 2019: DirecTV adds Altitude back to its programming offerings after both sides reach a mutual, multi-year agreement. No financial details of the agreement were disclosed, but Altitude has remained on-the-air for DirecTV customers ever since, which customers can access with the brand’s $89 per month “Choice” package.
November 2019: Altitude Sports files a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Colorado accusing Comcast of violating state and federal antitrust laws by trying to drive Altitude out of business and pocket more money. Altitude claims that Comcast plans to eventually “monopolize” sports programming in Denver with its own regional sports network. The same month, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announces that his office is investigating Comcast and DirecTV for “deceptive trade practices,” claiming the companies were quietly overcharging existing customers in the immediate aftermath of the new sports blackouts. (DirecTV would go on to pay more than $1 million in refunds to customers as part of a settlement.)
January 2020: Comcast fires back, filing two court motions to dismiss and discredit Altitude’s antitrust lawsuit.
December 2020: A federal judge partially denies Comcast’s motion to dismiss the case, ruling that there are still grounds to proceed with the “anti-competitive” claims in the case. The dispute rages on, with both sides now pointing the finger for attempts at monopolization.
January 2022: Frustrated by the two corporations’ endless head-butting and lack of resolution, State Representative Kyle Mullica and House Speaker Alec Garnett take matters into their own hands. The pair drafts HB22-1058, which would give Colorado’s attorney general the power to force any cable provider and regional sports network, not just Altitude, to go through nonbinding mediation for disputes that lasted longer than six weeks after a contract expires. The bill has not yet been heard by the Committee of Business Affairs & Labor.
February 23, 2022: Comcast and Altitude meet before a federal arbitrator two months after a local judge ordered the companies to appear in court to offer solutions to resolve the case. Altitude had updated its position with a new offer to Comcast at the prior hearing, and many fans felt the meeting foreshadowed the end of the dispute. But no decision was reached—and no further information on a timeline disclosed—leaving fans particularly lost.
April 2022: New court filings show Altitude and Comcast are set to meet again on June 2. No information has been provided indicating when Altitude last made a contract offer to Comcast. Comcast digs their heels in on their initial position, expressing they’re only interested in terms that would allow them to show the games to those customers who want to subscribe without raising rates for all of their customers.
With such a long-winded dispute and more questions than answers for local viewers, the frustration will more than likely continue through the Nuggets’ and Avs’ playoff runs. Until an agreement is reached, fans will have to resort to rallying behind their teams from the sports bars or from the stands.