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FREI: Comcast/Altitude fiasco is unfair definition of Kroenke regime

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Phelan Ebenhack/AP

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:

DENVER

Superstreak Bonus!

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

 

NEW YORK

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

 

TORONTO

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

 

WASHINGTON

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 (terry@terryfrei.com, @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

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Glendon Gulliver

You are right Terry that the Kroenkes and KSE has built a tremendous sports empire around the world. It was not appropriate for people to boo on such a monumental day for the Avalanche at its fans. That said, he is still partly responsible for the Comcast/Altitude fiasco. Is wanting to win justification for screwing over the fans? It would be one thing, and still wrong, if KSE was losing money and could not afford whatever deal puts the Avs and Nuggets games on TV. The thing is that both sides want more of the profit and the fans and… Read more »

Joshua Canfield

Terry, I agree with what your are saying yet I really do get the fans that booed. They don’t care about the technical aspects or legal aspects behind this issue with a “mega-mega-mega corporation and billionaires”. They just want to watch their games. I have had DirectTV for awhile and just moved at the start of the year and I found it really frustrating. It’s just frustrating. I do appreciate the writeup, good read.

dk

I would have booed at Pat Bowlen without hesitation.

par

Moved from Denver to Madison WI in 2012 then to Raleigh NC in 2017. I got to see the Avs more than my Die Hard friends still in CO. I’d boo too.

Aaron

I’m also in Raleigh! I loved watching my Avs play at the Hurricane’s arena.

Can we be best friends?

par

Sorry man, actually moving back this Friday. Way too hot here lol

Wayne Dunlap

I’ve had DIRECTV for 15+ years and it’s a rocksolid product. Is Comcast cable really that much cheaper? I don’t understand why, if someone really wanted to watch the games, they wouldn’t just switch. That’s the power of choice at play. I think that DIRECTV even has a streaming product now that is less expensive. Why is this even a thing? Switch and tell Comcast to go take a hike…if they lost a bunch of subscribers they’d take AltitudeTV as a loss leader.

Demetris Gray

Ummm, does Direct have internet access?

allen lacy

Don’t need video for isp. Comcast days, dtv video.

AvsFan95

I have DirecTV and Comcast internet access. Yes, I pay a little more because it’s not a bundle, but it’s well worth it to watch every Avs game.

Peter North

Yep, some have no clue. I stream YouTubeTV, which has local channels and unlimited DVR. If you have TMobile, a $10/month discount is offered. So far cheaper and better in some ways. Yet no AltitudeTV.

Bob Neal

That’s what we did. Seems like a no brainer to me. The Kroenkes have been good owners but unless you promote your product to the young kids you will never have long term success. Not too many kids are going to the game at a minimum of a $1,000 per seat in the finals. The Avs seem to have a very small following for such a high quality team. Stan clearly understands these basic business tenants so therefore I think he just appears to be greedy bc settling with Comcast does not appear to be a high priority with him.… Read more »

Aaron Rud

He’s a billionaire; I’m sure he’s not exactly NOT greedy.

Bob Neal

Good catch Aaron. I failed to remove the “just” during my editing. Eliminating the double negative, yes, I think Mr. Kroenke is being greedy bc one can be when you’re a billionaire!

Aaron Rud

Oh, I wasn’t criticizing your grammar, Bob. And you are right- you can be greedy when you’re that rich. However, they are being exceedingly short-sighted in this matter. You need to build up your fan base and create interest in your product. While people are rightfully interested NOW, they will lose interest when there are lean years. Very stupid business plan.

Last edited 4 months ago by Aaron Rud
Jeffrey Anderson

Understand your logic Terry, but don’t think that you get the fans. We want to have easy, multiple, options to watch our favorite team,, the Avs!! Never underestimate the stupidity of a large, stoned and inebriated, crowd! I was at Civic Center Park for 3 hours, only drinking water, and walked away craving Cheetos! I can watch home games only on a questionable free streaming service, and away games on ESPN+, as our only broadband option is Comcast. The most aggrevating part for me is that Kronke blacks out home games based on billing zip (?) on ESPN+. I continue… Read more »

Aaron Rud

Yup. I dined up for ESPN + as well, and they still get blacked out. Tried streaming. MEH. Didn’t like it. Even the color is darker. Used a streaming device. It’s “legal.” Still not the same as cable.

Rivera

You may try to back up the billionaires, but either way, they wanted too much money to televise the games…. simple really….

Peter North

What is the excuse for the Thuggets?

Jarome Dodge

The organization MUST invest in a quality practice facility. It is completely
Inexcusable that this team still is forced to practice at family sports, far and away the worst facility in the NHL. Ball arena is also dated and one of the most underwhelming venues in the league. The lack of investment in facilities is a joke. That, coupled with the inability to get games on TV, is enough for me to validate booing the ownership group.

Effem Ahl

Easy to stream the games for FREE. I’d gladly pay Altitude to direct stream the games. I’d gladly pay the NHL to direct stream the games. But, no, they force us to get it for FREE from streaming sites. F ’em all.

Jeremy

I just can’t agree with you on this one. Thankful for the Avs being in Denver? Absolutely but it doesn’t absolve Kroenke for making fans pay the price for his pissing contest with Comcast/DISH. And as far as the boos? When else are Avs fans going to be able to voice their displeasure with this dispute? He is just as much to blame as the corporations because he IS a corporation.

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