Loss of Altitude: Nuggets, Avalanche and Rapids broadcasts “TBD” amidst carrier negotiations

Colorado Avalanche fans celebrate a goal by center Nathan MacKinnon (29) (not pictured) in the second period against the San Jose Sharks in game four of the second round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playof... Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

By the time you read this, you may not be able to flip the channel over to Altitude Sports and Entertainment.

With current contracts set to expire with DISH Network (Wednesday night), DIRECTV and Comcast (both Saturday), the immediate future of Stan Kroenke’s regional sports channel is up in the air. At current, Altitude and its major carriers appear to be at an impasse with regard to negotiating a new deal. Wednesday morning, Altitude sent out a press release that brought the troubling situation to the public.

“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 in the official statement. “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.”

In a phone call on Wednesday, Martin elaborated.

“There aren’t many differences in number, but the differences we have are major in nature,” he said.

The two primary areas of disagreement: Price and carriage.

“In our last extension, KSE has received an 8 percent annual rate increase. The current proposal on the table asks for a 5 percent increase and most recently we offered the first year flat.”

In a statement to the Denver Post, Comcast claimed that Altitude demanded “significant annual price increases” throughout their agreement and that “Over the past year, more than 95 percent 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.”

These assertions did not sit well, as Altitude offered a quick rebuttal in a statement sent out after 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

“Altitude Sports respectfully disagrees with Comcast’s mis-characterization of carriage negotiations,” said Matt Hutchings, president of Altitude Sports and Entertainment.

“Altitude has never requested a significant increase in its fees in six months of good-faith negotiations. In fact, Comcast is demanding that Altitude take a substantial and economically unviable reduction in fees. The cable company has never proposed reducing fees to its customers; yet it continues to find ways to increase rates, including creating a tier that would take a city’s treasured sports teams off its most basic cable package.”

Martin says that the carriers have countered with proposals that involve substantial rate decreases, one of as much as 60 percent.”

With regard to carriage, according to Martin, Comcast, DIRECTV and DISH Network would all like to alter how Altitude is being offered (or packaged). For 15 years, Altitude has been part of a larger basic package; in the current negotiations, they would like to offer Altitude in a more limited manner, such as a tier that’s geared solely toward sports.

“(Carriage) is a huge issue,” said Martin. “There are those who believe sports should be packaged separately, but the reality for professional sports and their regional telecasts in today’s world is that if they do not have broad-based distribution, it’s not a sustainable economic model for the networks or the teams.”

Martin also points out that the distributors are not handling these negotiations in the same manner in which they’ve handled other regional networks, and they’re not treating current negotiations the same amongst each other. He adds that Comcast and DIRECTV do not treat the regional sports networks they own this way, nor do they treat each other’s regional sports networks this way. For example, neither DIRECTV nor Comcast is handling rates and carriage with AT&T Sportsnet, which is owned by the same parent company as DIRECTV and carries Colorado Rockies games, in the same manner they propose for Altitude.

According to Martin, as part of negotiations, Altitude has offered temporary extensions of the current deal until a new deal can be agreed upon. The networks have declined the extensions as well as multiple/various proposals made by Altitude.

In response to Altitude’s release, DISH Network offered the following statement via email: “DISH’s goal is to keep Altitude Sports available to our customers at a reasonable cost. We are unsure why Altitude has decided to involve customers in the contract negotiation process when there is still time for the two parties to reach a mutually beneficial deal.”

Said Martin of DISH’s comment: “DISH declined an extension and said we were so far apart there was no purpose in an extension, so if they won’t talk and I can’t involve the consumer – the fans – then who do I involve?”

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