COLUMNS

Are the Denver teams truly Kroenke’s red-headed stepchildren?

Jun 3, 2022, 4:40 PM | Updated: Jun 4, 2022, 10:09 pm
Josh Kroenke...
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The buck doesn’t stop at Josh Kroenke, but for Kroenke Sports Enterprise’s Denver operations, it comes close.

He’s a governor of both the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets and an alternate governor of the Colorado Rapids. He serves as team president of the Nuggets.

So, it was understandable that he would bristle at the notion of the Denver teams being a “red-headed stepchild” in the bulbous KSE empire.

In the short term, things are going well. In the past 24 months, the Avalanche and Nuggets have each made their sport’s Conference Finals. The Rapids had the best regular-season record in MLS’s Western Conference last year.

“So, I’m not sure if I understand the context of them feeling left out, because we are very much focused on all of our teams,” Kroenke insisted when he met media at Ball Arena on Frida. “We have great people running our teams on a daily basis, and that’s really why I am here …

“I would say there’s no red-headed stepchild at all. We are very focused on all of our teams and making sure that the fanbases are very happy.”

But large swaths of the fan base cannot easily watch those teams in the regional market because of the ongoing Altitude-Comcast dispute.

And the perception that other tentacles of the KSE octopus are better-resourced and more-loved continues to linger.

***

L.A. AND LONDON GET WHAT THEY NEED

First, weary Denver eyes gaze upon Southern California.

Earlier this year, Stan Kroenke $150 million for a tract of land in Woodland Hills, Calif. A dead mall sits there now. But it could soon be alive with the sounds of popping pads and fans gathered to watch practices.

The Rams and Kroenke representatives have not commented on the intent of the land purchase. But others around San Fernando Valley know what is likely in the cards: a new facility for the Los Angeles Rams.

“That mall has been fairly vacant for a long time and now it’s going to be reimagined, and it’s going to dive into that sports entertainment world,” said Nancy Hoffman Vanyek, CEO of the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce, to the Los Angeles Daily News last month.

The Rams need a new facility. Since their 2016 relocation, they’ve worked in temporary digs at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

But now it appears that they’re on their way to having an everyday palace that could match the Xanadu in which they play their home games: SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. It’s a privately-built facility that Kroenke owns lock, stock and barrel. It also generates income from the Los Angeles Chargers, who are tenants.

Then, those eyes look across the Atlantic Ocean, to Premier League stalwart Arsenal F.C.

KSE-owned Arsenal reportedly has a $227-million budget for roster spending before the 2022-23 season, per SB Nation. And its training facility was completely renovated in 2018 at a reported cost of $37.4 million.

As for new or overhauled facilities for the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets … it remains all words and no actions.

The Denver Nuggets continue paddling on without a practice facility of their own. They have a gym at Ball Arena. But dedicated, well-appointed facilities are standard operating procedure in most of the NBA. And the less said about the Colorado Avalanche sharing a spot with Laser Tag games, the better. Meanwhile, in Major League Soccer, the Colorado Rapids play in a stadium that is out of the way for most of the metropolitan area.

The team’s payroll lags; according to the Major League Soccer Players Association, the team’s player payroll ranks 24th of 28 teams. And the Rapids remain the only MLS side without a jersey sponsor — something that is standard operating procedure in the club-soccer world. Consider the lads in Commerce City to be the “burgundy-headed stepchild” — a step past “red-headed.”

And the Rapids remain trapped behind the limited reach of Altitude in the wake of the network’s continued carriage dispute with Comcast — just like the Avs and Nuggets.

***

OVER TWO DECADES, THESE ARE, FRANKLY, MIDDLING TEAMS:

To wit:

  • AVALANCHE: An average NHL team would have made 11.1 playoff appearances and won 0.66 Stanley Cups since 2000-01, KSE’s first full season in the NHL. The Avs are above average, with 13 playoff appearances and one championship. The Avs are also 10th in the NHL with 1.14 points per game in that span. This team is easily the most accomplished major club under KSE’s watch.
  • NUGGETS: An average NHL team since 2001 would have made 11.7 playoff appearances, won 0.73 titles and made 1.47 Finals appearances since 2000-01. The Nuggets are above average in playoff appearances — 14 of 22 — but below average in Finals appearances, Conference Finals appearances and trips to the Conference Semifinals, with 0, 2 and 4 of each, respectively. In the regular season, the Nuggets rank 8th of 30 NBA teams with a .538 winning percentage in KSE’s 22 full seasons of ownership.
  • RAPIDS: An average MLS team should have made 10.6 playoff appearances and won 1.06 championships since 2004, KSE’s first full season running the Rapids. The Rapids are slightly below average, with nine playoff appearances and a single MLS Cup, won in 2010. They also rank 18th of 29 MLS clubs since 2004 with 1.30 points per game.

Now, Josh Kroenke is right: The moment is great for the Denver branches of the KSE empire.

But on balance and over the long haul, KSE’s teams are firmly middle-tier. Fifty-four seasons combined among the Nuggets, Avs and Rapids have resulted in two championships — one every 27 seasons.

Meanwhile, the Rams have a Super Bowl win, another NFC title and five winning seasons in six years since the relocation from St. Louis. And their fans can easily watch them play — although the NFL has a different structure in contracts.

Los Angeles fans have reason to be giddy about KSE stewardship.

Arsenal’s fans aren’t, but the Gunners still have four F.A. Cups and have never finished lower than eighth in the 20-club Premier League in 11 KSE seasons. They’ve qualified to play in Europe in 10 of those 11 campaigns.

Sure, Denver’s returns are fine. But they don’t match up to their London and L.A. corporate cousins. It’s fair for Denver fans to believe they’re the “red-headed stepchild” by comparison.

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Are the Denver teams truly Kroenke’s red-headed stepchildren?