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Thanks to Kroenke, most fans missed out on storybook seasons

(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Tonight, the Avalanche will begin their quest to win the Stanley Cup. Colorado enters the postseason as the top team in the NHL, fresh off of winning the 2020-21 Presidents’ Trophy for the league’s best regular-season record.

Fortunately for fans of the team, as well as casual sports fans in the Denver market, the games will be available to anyone who wants to see them. Fans are allowed back into Ball Arena and the television broadcast on NBCSN won’t be blacked out in the metro area.

It’ll be a nice chance for hockey fans to watch a team that accomplished something that hasn’t been done in these parts for 20 years. A great product, one that should’ve built a generation of fans, will finally be on display.

That hasn’t been the case all season.

Imagine if Colorado sports fans hadn’t gotten to see Rocktober in 2007, if they had missed out on the birth of BroncoMania in ’77, if they hadn’t seen the Buffs magical runs in ’89 and ’90.

That’s the kind of wasted opportunity that transpired this season.

The first reason for the season in the dark is no one’s fault. A global pandemic prevented fans from attending for most of the campaign, only opening up to some fans on a limited basis in recent weeks.

The second cause, however, is completely the fault of the team. The Avs haven’t been available for most fans to watch on television because of the ridiculous ongoing dispute between the franchise’s TV partner, Altitude, and Comcast.

Of course, Altitude is owned by Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, the same group that owns the Avalanche. And for more than two years, the people who run the network and the team have been able to strike a deal with the largest cable provider in the Denver metro area.

That’s left most fans unable to watch the games, unless the want to switch to DirecTV, stream the games through the Ukraine or jump through some other hoop. For two years!

It’s an appalling situation. Making a product hard for potential customers to get is bad business, but that’s exactly what KSE has done for two seasons.

To make matters worse, their product has never been better. While the Avs have been posting the best record in the NHL, the Nuggets have enjoyed a season for the ages from Nikola Jokic, who is about to win the first NBA Most Valuable Player award in franchise history.

Wouldn’t it have been great if everyone could’ve seen those things transpire? Wouldn’t that have created memories that would’ve lasted a lifetime; building an affinity for the teams that would carry on for decades?

Instead, most people didn’t see it happen. A huge opportunity was lost.

Why? Because KSE wanted to pout.

The carriage deals the company had with Comcast, Dish Network and DirecTV for Altitude all came to an end in August 2019. Having all three expire at the same time, which eliminates some of KSE’s leverage, was a huge blunder. But they don’t want to focus on that fact.

Instead, they want to complain that Comcast doesn’t want to offer them the exact same deal that Altitude received for the first 15 years they were in existence. In other words, they didn’t want to face the reality that times have changed.

It stands to reason that Altitude would continue to want a monthly fee from every Comcast subscriber. That’s a heckuva deal.

But in a landscape that is seeing people flee cable TV in droves, with streaming platforms becoming all the rage, it also makes sense that Comcast would want to amend things. Their world had changed.

Instead of accepting that shift and finding a way to work out a deal, however, Altitude took their ball (or puck) and went home. They couldn’t accept that the money tree that had been in their backyard for 15 years was no longer going to produce as many millions on an annual basis.

So they cried foul, accusing Comcast of being the bully. A company owned by a billionaire claimed they were being run out of business. That’s laughable on many fronts.

For one, playing hard ball isn’t illegal. Stan Kroenke should know this; it’s how he got the Los Angeles market for his Rams ahead of long-time NFL owners in Oakland and San Diego.

For two, claiming that Comcast pays for more its house-owned regional sports networks than it was offering for Altitude is also folly. Unless of course KSE is willing to prove that they charge the Avs and Nuggets the same fee to rent Ball Arena as they do every other performer.

And finally, it’s ignores the fact that Comcast is currently trying to divest itself of RSNs, not add more. Trying to acquire Altitude would go against their most-recent plans.

Nonetheless, Kroenke has held strong to this claim. He’s taken it to the courts, locking the issue up for months in what most consider to be a “Hail Mary” legal attempt to get his way.

Meanwhile, the fans lose. Avalanche and Nuggets supporters don’t get to watch the best versions of the teams in decades. After watching a lot of bad hockey and basketball, they were deprived of their just reward.

They also couldn’t go to the games. And for a long time, they couldn’t even go to a bar to watch the telecast.

It’s been a stomach punch. And it’s KSE’s fault.

Yes, it takes two to tango. And to be fair, Comcast has some blame in the carriage rights standoff. But they aren’t in the loyalty business.

KSE is. That’s what sports are all about.

The fans, who directly or indirectly drive every dollar of revenue for a franchise, stand by their teams through thick and thin. And the teams try their hardest to make that emotional and financial investment worthwhile.

KSE broke that covenant. When fans of the Avs and Nuggets were finally going to get to reap the reward of loyal fandom, they were robbed of it by a greedy owner. An owner who wouldn’t even answer questions as to why.

Where has Stan Kroenke been during all of this? How about Josh Kroenke?

Like most of the KSE suits, they’ve pulled a disappearing act. Instead, they’ve let Altitude’s on-air personalities take the arrows from fans.

The talent on Avalanche and Nuggets broadcasts is first-rate. And they’re good people.

It’s shameful that KSE has made them do their dirty work. They’ve loyally taken on the job, having to publicly defend decisions they didn’t make and try to explain negotiations they were a part of in any way.

A prime example occurred a year ago. When Altitude tried to block NBCSN’s telecast of Avalanche first-round playoff games in Denver, the network had its talent take to the air and social media to play the role of the victim; they claimed that Altitude had no choice.

Some of us called balderdash. And that ruffled the feathers of many. (I have the Twitter mentions to prove it.)

What happened? KSE reversed course a day later, hanging their talent out to dry.

They relented and let the fans watch the playoff games last season. They’ll do it again this year.

Those are the only good decisions KSE has made during this mess. They’ve bungled it from the start, wasting a golden opportunity.

In a dark year, the Avalanche and Nuggets should’ve provided a beacon of hope. Instead, they’ve largely operated on anonymity, toiling in front of empty arenas and mostly in available broadcasts.

It’s robbed the fans. It’s robbed the players. It’s robbed the coaches and front office. And it’s robbed the on-air folks.

Everyone should’ve gotten to enjoy the ride. They should’ve shared in their piece of the good times.

Shame on KSE for causing this situation. And shame on them for not fixing it.

The Avs and Nuggets figure to be good for years to come. Next season might even be better for both.

Here’s hoping Denver sports fans will get to see it. That’s (mostly) up to Stan Kroenke.