During the Stanley Cup celebration at Civic Center Park, Joe Sakic saluted Avalanche and Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke, who was present for the ceremony but didn’t go to the podium to speak.
Sakic thanked Kroenke for backing him and providing what the franchise needed to succeed.
I’m not going to exaggerate here in search of a contrived hot take.
The boos among the cheers were not widespread but were noticeable. It definitely was a mixed reaction.
Wait … the Avalanche just had won the NHL championship for the third time in their 27 years in Denver, and for the second time under the Kroenke umbrella, and the owner is booed?
Could you imagine that happening with Pat Bowlen? Of course, you couldn’t.
The fact of the matter is that the Kroenke ownership has been great for Colorado. Stan is Kroenke Sports and Entertainment’s chairman and CEO.
Let me emphasize that.
The Kroenke ownership, also including Stan’s son, Josh, who is president of both the Avalanche and Nuggets, has been great for Colorado.
Also give it credit for the other teams in the KSE Colorado portfolio: Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids, and the National (indoor) Lacrosse League champion Colorado Mammoth.
KSE also owns the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and Arsenal FC of the Premier League. But that’s of secondary concern here. (Unless family competition is an added impetus for the Rob Walton ownership group once the Broncos’ new ownership takes over. Stan’s wife, Ann Walton Kroenke, who for a time technically was owner of the Nuggets and Avalanche until well after the NFL rolled back cross-ownership rules, and Rob Walton are cousins.)
The reason for those scattered boos Thursday was obvious.
They’re tied to the ongoing Comcast / Altitude fiasco that for three seasons has prevented the Avalanche (and Nuggets) from being available on the dominant cable system in the Denver area.
That’s not how to nurture a fan base that wants to watch a handful of the best players in the world, including Nikola Jokic, Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar, and their teams.
The relatively universal availability of Avalanche games in the playoffs — including via TNT and ABC — was great, but also was a reminder of what so many had missed in the regular season.
I get it. We’re Comcast subscribers and we’re frustrated, too.
But the boos?
I would have hoped that the issues — ownership’s role in the Avalanche’s NHL championship on the one hand; and the KSE / Altitude’s ongoing dispute with the cable carrier on the other — could be separated for at least a day.
I’ve opined on the dispute several times and won’t run through it all again. But to summarize: It’s a business dispute between a mega-mega-mega corporation and billionaires.
Stan Kroenke, a competitor in all things, including business, wants to win.
Comcast’s motives are murky, including the possibility that it wouldn’t mind it if independent regional sports networks are put out of business. The RSN role in the marketplace has evolved and perhaps the model no longer is viable.
After three years of receiving zero in rights fees from Comcast, KSE’s hard line in refusing to simply get the best offer possible from the cable carrier and viewing it as a promotional loss leader is baffling. To me, that would make economic sense.
But KSE also deserves some credit for keeping Altitude on the air and at least available to those able to get it via DirecTV and through other means.
Another settlement conference linked to the Altitude lawsuit against Comcast is scheduled for mid-July. Previous conferences have been unsuccessful, resulting in delay and frustration. Perhaps this one will be different.
Put all of that aside for a moment.
Denver is one of four markets with dual NHL-NBA ownership.
The other three are the New York Rangers and Knicks; the Washington Capitals and Wizards; and the Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors. There are fine-print disclaimers for the official ownership structures, especially in Toronto, but those are the realities about control of the franchises.
Considered as tandem operations, the Kroenke-owned Avalanche and Nuggets are the best of the four.
Actually, you could go farther and say that regardless of dual or separate ownerships, Denver has the best situation of all markets with both NHL and NBA franchises. The Kroenkes deserve credit for that, too.
In the Avalanche’s case, the ownership’s strength is recognizing what it doesn’t know, hiring personnel up and down the organizational chart it trusts, and allowing them to do their jobs. Stan and Josh Kroenke, both with basketball playing backgrounds, are more activist in NBA discussions.
In a hard-cap NHL, the payroll parameters are pretty much set by the CBA, so it’s not a matter of giving financial carte blanche. I still remember once asking Josh Kroenke at an availability for an Avalanche draft class what his philosophy was about NHL free agency. He pointed across the room to Sakic and said: “My philosophy is whatever he says it is.”
Perhaps the euphoria of this championship will accelerate a move toward construction of a new practice facility/rink for the Avalanche, whether linked to a new Nuggets practice gym or otherwise.
I would have hoped that the Kroenkes would have been chagrined or even outraged by the unfair and ill-timed boos and be moved to address the cause.
But it’s business.
Stan Kroenke likes to win there, too.
The dual ownership details:
Owner: Kroenke Sports and Entertainment; Stan Kroenke, chairman and CEO
NHL: Colorado Avalanche
Regular season: 56-19-7
Playoffs: Defeated Tampa Bay in Stanley Cup Final, won NHL championship
NBA: Denver Nuggets
Regular season: 48-34
Playoffs: Lost to Golden State in first round
Owner: Madison Square Garden Sports Corp.; James Dolan, executive chairman and CEO
NHL: New York Rangers
Regular season: 52-24-6
Playoffs: Lost to Tampa Bay in Eastern Conference Final
NBA: New York Knicks
Regular season: 37-45
Did not make playoffs
Owner: Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment; Larry Tannenbaum, chairman
NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs
Regular season: 54-21-7
Playoffs: Lost to Tampa Bay in first round
NBA: Toronto Raptors
Regular season: 48-34
Playoffs: Lost to Philadelphia in first round
Owner: Monumental Sports and Entertainment; Ted Leonsis, founder, majority owner, chairman and CEO.
NHL: Washington Capitals
Regular season: 44-26-12
Playoffs: Lost to Florida in first round
NBA: Washington Wizards
Regular season: 35-47
Did not make playoffs
Terry Frei (firstname.lastname@example.org, @tfrei) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been named a state’s sportswriter of the year seven times in peer voting — four times in Colorado and three times in Oregon. His seven books include the novels “Olympic Affair” and “The Witch’s Season.” Among his five non-fiction works are “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” “Third Down and a War to Go,” “March 1939: Before the Madness,” and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” He also collaborated with Adrian Dater on “Save By Roy,” was a long-time vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and has covered the hockey Rockies, Avalanche and the NHL at-large. His website is www.terryfrei.com and his bio is available at www.terryfrei.com/bio.html
His Colorado Hockey Now column archive can be accessed here