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What’s Really Behind #dontblockmyaltitude

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Zach Gotlieb | October 3rd, 2019

The Colorado Avalanche are set to open the season this Thursday, October 3rd. The Denver Nuggets open the regular season on October 23rd. While the Nuggets open the season on ESPN, the Avalanche do not. As things currently stand, The Avalanche game will not be viewed by the local public unless you are in the Pepsi Center. The beginning of September marked the end of an agreement between the Nuggets and Avalanche local broadcast network ‘Altitude TV’ and the so-called “Big 3” of DIRECTV, DISH Network, and Comcast.

Altitude TV, known as a regional sports network (RSN), is owned by the Kroenke family, the owners of the Nuggets and Avalanche. They cover all types of local sporting events ranging from high school sports to pro sports in a ten state area, including Colorado and Utah. For the last 15 years, since its inception in 2004, Altitude has broadcast games for a plethora of sports and events partnering with the “Big 3.” The deal expired just before the beginning of the new seasons’ for each sport and the two sides are reportedly far off from reaching a new agreement.

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The negotiations have hit a stall between the regional network and the broadcasting companies. Here’s an excerpt from Comcast’s statement from the end of August about the negotiations:

“We want to reach an agreement with Altitude, but it must be at a reasonable price for our customers. Altitude has demanded significant annual price increases for the same content for years, which has driven up costs for all of our customers in Colorado and Utah, even though most of them do not watch the channel. Over the past year, more than 95% of Altitude subscribers watched less than the equivalent of a game per week. The price increase Altitude is again demanding is unacceptable given the network’s low viewership. We have submitted a proposal to Altitude that we believe reflects the value of its programming and are hopeful Altitude will accept it so we can continue to carry the network for those customers who want to watch it.”

Meanwhile, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE) released a statement trying to rally the troops of viewers saying:

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“Why are these three cable and satellite giants coming together now after fifteen years to block viewers from watching their favorite local teams? In fact, Comcast and DIRECTV, which also own and operate their own regional sports networks that carry their local sports teams, have entered into agreements with regional sports networks throughout the United States, and even here in our very own region, on terms and conditions very similar to those that Altitude has been negotiating for.
The Big Three’s hardball tactics are dumbfounding and disrespectful to their sports-loving customers. Altitude has been an exemplary partner since its launch in 2004, producing and airing thousands of Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids, Colorado Mammoth, and DU [University of Denver] games. Altitude also telecasts invaluable and award-winning programming otherwise unavailable for colleges and high schools in our 10-state territory. Now the Big Three want to tune out their viewers and turn off our beloved teams and all other Altitude programming. This makes no sense.”

KSE’s statement ended by saying, “We are asking anyone who currently subscribes to Comcast, DIRECTV or DISH Network programming to please make your voices be heard by calling, emailing and using social media platforms to tell them — DON’T BLOCK MY ALTITUDE!”

What’s happening here is a good ole’ fashioned stalemate, which is not uncommon. The networks use their viewers to push back at the cable companies saying they are “mean money-grubbing people.” The cable companies usually work negotiations by saying the ratings are too low and/or the asking price is too high. Based on Comcast’s statement, both appear to be the case.

What typically happens is, not unlike what sometimes happens with CBA agreements, a deal won’t be struck until the very last minute. This time, however, it doesn’t appear that a deal will happen before the Avalanche season opener.

Dish has begun to earn the reputation of not carrying RSN’s. They have completely dropped YES Network, the TV home of the New York Yankees. They also have dropped all FOX networks (including the sports networks) in 17 markets in 23 states as well as the District of Columbia within the last few days.

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There’s a lot to think about with this. It’s not as simple as “give us back our sports.”

The extreme thought process based on the recent activity of DISH is this could possibly be the beginning of the end of RSN’s as we know it. Companies are seeming to find less and less value in RSN’s. If this is the case, the question will become what’s going to happen to the televised sports industry? It certainly wouldn’t spell anything good.

It may just be precisely what both sides are saying. A total disagreement on terms and value that can possibly be resolved. Just going to take a ton of negotiating and compromising from both sides.

Possible Solutions:

  • The most hopeful solution is that an agreement can be made to at least make a deal throughout this season.
  • Altitude, the Nuggets, and the Avalanche may get desperate enough to try and get both the NBA and NHL involved in this matter to try and find a solution.
  • Altitude could end up just waving the white flag on negotiations while trying to find alternative ways to get broadcasts out to their viewers. That may include finding a way to start a streaming service of their own. That does seem to be all the rave these days anyway.
  • What’s (hopefully) the least likely solution is that viewers in the local market simply won’t be able to watch the Nuggets and Avalanche indefinitely. Note: NBA League Pass has all games in the local market blacked out because Altitude still owns exclusive rights to broadcast.

To the fans and people that are mad at these cable companies:

They are a business. So often, especially with sports, we seem to think that they make a lot of money so they can just give money to anyone or anything to help them. Most recently, I heard people saying that the NBA can just give money to the WNBA. While there’s probably something they can do, they can’t just give them a billion dollars.

The same applies here. “For-profit” businesses are in the business of making money, not just giving everyone everything. If they believe that the asking price is too high for their value, or the potential return on investment is not high enough to match Altitude’s asking price, they’re not going to go through with the deal. So yes, you can be mad at them, and understandably so. Just understand, businesses are in the business of making money.

To Comcast, DIRECTV, and DISH:

There is a market for this network and the product they broadcast. If you don’t believe that, look at the massive outcry of support that’s been put on social media. In your statement, you mentioned that 95% of viewers watched the equivalent to less than a game per week. That data seems likely skewed based on a lack of specificity. There is an off-season for these sports where there are just not games. When there are 8,736 hours in a year, and there’s maybe 14-24 hours a week of games for not the whole year, it’s hard to make that data seem accurate compared to the time when games are on.

Some people are willing to add money to their package to include Altitude if that’s what it’s really worth. It is unclear how many or how much they’d spend, but there is a potential market.

The quality of the product is “award-winning” as stated by KSE and for a reason. The Nuggets team of Chris Marlowe, Scott Hastings, Katy Winge, Vic Lombardi, Bill Hanzlik, and Todd Romero are one of the best RSN teams in the league. The Avalanche team of Marc Moser, Peter McNabb are one of the best in the business. Not having them on the air would be a travesty.

Questions and comments?
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Main Image Credit: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/1146616322

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