NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Avalanche And The Nuggets Are Playing, But You Can't Watch. Here's Why

Pepsi Center
Robert Tadlock
CC BY 2.0
The Pepsi Center arena in Denver is home to the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets.

The Colorado Avalanche are off to a hot start this season, following a surprise playoff run last season that took them into the second round. The Denver Nuggets are also big favorites to go deep into the playoffs following a hugely successful season. But fans are having a hard time watching the games on television this year, and it's unclear if they will be able to at all for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

The reason: the network that owns the broadcasting rights to those teams and a few others (the Colorado Rapids soccer team and the Colorado Mammoth lacrosse team), is in a contract dispute with the three major distributors, Comcast/Xfinity, Dish Network and AT&T DirecTV.

Essentially, the regional sports network industry in general is in turmoil. Michael Singer covers the Nuggets for the Denver Post and has been writing about the dispute between Altitude and distributors.

It basically comes down to cost.

"Obviously, you've heard the term cord cutters that is driving the entire turmoil in the industry," Singer said. "People are tired of paying exorbitant or exorbitant fees for regional sports networks in their cable bill and these distributors claim that their subscribers aren't watching these games."

Colorado is front and center for this issue right now, and Singer says other sports markets are watching how this plays out closely. He notes that it has come into question why Altitude let all the contracts expire at the same time.

But Matt Hutchings, chief operating officer for Kroenke Sports and Entertainment — the parent company of Altitude — says contracts are typically renewed every five years with carriers increasing rates. This year they said no to the proposed increase. The second component, he says, is two of these carriers, Comcast and AT&T DirecTV, own and operate regional sports networks throughout the country.

"And we know that they have not asked, and they are not requiring, their own networks to take the terms of what they put forward to us," Hutchings said. "And nor are they requiring each other. So, they have agreements with each other for carriage of these regional sports networks that are completely - not the same as what they're trying to ask us to take."

Comcast responded to KUNC in an emailed statement:

"We know how much Nuggets and Avalanche fans want to watch their teams this season. There are no NBCUniversal RSNs in this market, and we've provided Altitude with some options to ensure Nuggets and Avalanche fans can enjoy the games on Comcast. Unfortunately, Altitude has rejected them. We would like to reach an agreement with Altitude while avoiding driving up costs for our customers. We want to do what is right for our customers. We've provided a partial credit to the Regional Sports Network fee and that is reflected on the customers' bills under the "credit" portion of the bill."

So, until this contract dispute is resolved, fans are left with few options to watch the games. Only smaller cable providers came to a contract extension with Altitude, including CenturyLink, Charter and TDS Broadband.

That means it's near impossible to watch the games at a sports bar because most of those bars utilize the three main networks. But Michael Singer says you can always buy a ticket.

"There are unfortunately, there are illicit streams that people have chosen to use. The problem is that if you buy League Pass for the NBA, it is blacked out if you are in the Denver Metro area," Singer said.

It's the same situation for the Hockey Center Ice offered by DirecTV. When you purchase television packages that give you access to all the games all the time, the local ones are blacked out to give preference to the local provider. Which, in this case, is Altitude.

You can also listen to games on the radio. Altitude owns the rights to some of those games, and local radio stations contract with them to air those.

In theory, this holdout could last for the entire season. However, Singer thinks they may agree on a one year stopgap extension, to further work out details.

Altitude has reached out to Amazon and Hulu to discuss streaming options, but Matt Hutchings said those options aren't economically viable for Altitude. So, until further notice, you can't watch the Avs and Nuggets on TV if you have Dish, Comcast, or DirecTV.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Comcast is an underwriter for KUNC.

Related Content