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If Avs and Nuggets games aren’t on TV, there’s blame all around

(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Fans might not be able to watch the Avalanche and Nuggets when their 2019-20 seasons commence in the coming weeks.

The teams want everyone to believe it’s because of the big, bad cable and satellite distributors. But the reality is more complicated. It’s also about low ratings, fans who don’t regularly tune in to watch games, rate increases and the changing landscape of television.

Altitude Sports, the regional sports network that is owned by the same parent company as both teams, is currently in negotiations with its three largest distributors on a new carriage contract. As of right now, a new deal isn’t in place, meaning DISH Network subscribers will no longer be able to access Altitude Sports as of Wednesday (Aug. 28), while Comcast and DIRECTV users will lose the channel on Saturday (Aug. 31).

If this happens and a deal isn’t struck in the coming weeks, several hundred thousand satellite and cable subscribers would lose their ability to watch the Avalanche and Nuggets, as well as the Mammoth, Rapids and other Altitude Sports programming. On Wednesday, the network launched a campaign they hope will help avoid that situation, calling on fans of both teams to lobby Comcast, DIRECTV and DISH to make a deal with Altitude Sports.

They are asking fans to call, email and use other digital platforms to apply pressure. Altitude Sports is hoping the fans, who wind up being the innocent victims in a battle over subscriber fees between the teams and the distributors, can force Comcast, DIRECTV and DISH to rethink their current position in the negotiations. They’re definitely being positioned as the “bad guys” by the television home of the Avalanche and Nuggets.

“That Altitude’s three major distributors would each reject Altitude’s fair offer, and in unison insist instead that Altitude accept terms that would render the telecast of local professional sports completely nonviable, is more than disappointing and is a disservice to the community,” said Jim Martin, president and chief executive officer of Altitude’s parent company, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment. “The upcoming Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche seasons are each among the most highly anticipated in both teams’ history. For these distributors to collectively seek to deprive our fans the opportunity to watch their home teams is inexcusable and disheartening.”

According to a press release issued by Altitude, their offer to Comcast, DIRECTV and DISH was only requesting “fair market rates” and was based on “terms and conditions no different than the ones under which each of those distributors have been carrying Altitude since its initial launch 15 years ago.”

That’s just one side of the story, however. Comcast, DIRECTV and DISH have a different version of events.

They’re concerned that Altitude Sports is once again seeking a rate increase, despite the ever-changing cable and satellite television landscape. Cord cutting and use of mobile platforms, including Altitude’s own AltitudeNOW app, have cut into the potential audience.

They’re also worried about paltry local ratings, which remain among the lowest in both the NBA and NHL. Last season, the Avalanche drew just a 1.6 rating, while the Nuggets generated only a 1.3. Both numbers were actually big increases over previous years, as both teams have hovered at or below the TV version of baseball’s Mendoza Line (1.0) for most of the decade.

“We want to reach an agreement with Altitude, but it must be at a reasonable price for our customers,” Comcast said in a statement. “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.”

Given those viewership numbers, it’s easy to understand why Comcast, as well as DIRECTV and DISH, are hesitant to pay more money for Altitude Sports. Keep in mind, those numbers apply to Avalanche and Nuggets games, which are the best programming on the network. Everything else draws even fewer viewers.

Will it be a bummer if early season games for the Avalanche and Nuggets aren’t available to most Altitude Sports subscribers? Without a doubt. But there will be plenty of blame to go around.

Yes, Comcast, DISH and DIRECTV are the ones pulling the plug on the network until a new deal gets done. But it takes two to tango. And the folks at Altitude Sports are also seeking a deal that all three distributors have unilaterally rejected, a sign that they’re perhaps trying to leverage the well-timed uptick in performance by the Avalanche and Nuggets to get a sweetheart deal.