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What’s going on with Altitude?

TL;DR Don’t expect to see the Rapids on TV anytime soon.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I have DISH TV and every now and then I’ll get a notice that says this channel or that channel is at risk of being dropped. It doesn’t seem to happen often and if the channel does actually go away, it’s usually back quickly.

But in the case of Altitude Sports, I’m not sure there will be a resolution any time soon.

We started hearing that the three major cable and dish companies were possible going to drop Altitude on August 28th, the day after the Colorado Rapids’ new head coach, Robin Fraser, was announced.

What are we missing out on?

Altitude is the regional sports network that currently broadcasts multiple local sports teams: Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids, Colorado Mammoth, University of Denver, Denver Outlaws, and CHSAA High School football games.

Why is this happening?

The fact is that the “carriage” contracts between Altitude and DISH, Comcast/Xfinity, and DIRECTV have expired, so there is typically a negotiation period to determine the new contract. The problem is, they can’t reach an agreement. Each side is blaming the other and the fans are missing out. (Well, Rapids fans are missing out since the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets seasons haven’t started yet.)

According to a statement from Comcast to the Denver Post, “We want to reach an agreement with Altitude, but it must be at a reasonable price for our customers. Altitude has demanded significant annual price increases for the same content for years, which has driven up costs for all of our customers in Colorado and Utah, even though most of them do not watch the channel. Over the past year, more than 95% 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. We have submitted a proposal to Altitude that we believe reflects the value of its programming and are hopeful Altitude will accept it so we can continue to carry the network for those customers who want to watch it.”

So here we have Comcast citing low viewership as a reason for not complying with what they call a “significant annual price increase.”

Jim Martin, President and Chief Executive Officer of Altitude’s parent company, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, believes “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. 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.”

Martin also told the Denver Post that “Comcast made us a proposal which they refuse to budge off of, which proposed 60 percent plus cuts in our rates plus taking us to a sports tier as opposed to a basic package, so we would have 60 percent less per subscriber and we’d have only 15-20 percent of the subscribers that we have now. The reality of professional sports these days is you have to have broad-based distribution or it’s not a viable situation.”

According to South Stands Denver, Altitude wants to stay as part of the basic package, while the cable companies want to make Altitude part of a special sports tier that would require customers to pay an extra fee.

What about streaming?

Many fans have been saying that the simple solution is for Altitude to stream games. Then people could drop cable and see the games anywhere, anytime. The problem with that is that no regional sports networks have the budget to do that.

From Matt Hutchins, President of Altitude Sports:

“Unfortunately, today a model does not exist that can support a streaming/direct to consumer option. Ask yourself why large corporations like NBC/Comcast and AT&T/DIRECTV don’t offer their Regional Sports Networks directly to their consumers. The answer is, all Regional Sports Networks, Altitude included, must be very broadly distributed (i.e., on basic or expanded basic on cable or satellite) in order to have enough revenue to license and pay for the various team and league games they each carry and offer to their customers. A direct to consumer offering would be very expensive to the consumer and likely would not raise sufficient revenue for Altitude and the other Regional Sports Networks to remain in business. If this model did not exist, the Regional Sports Networks, including Altitude, would disappear as they would not have sufficient revenue to pay for the rights fees for the wide array of sports programming they provide to their subscribers. As a result, sports fans would not be able to watch their favorite local teams.

There is not a Regional Sports Network in the country that provides a streaming/direct to consumer option. In fact, neither Comcast, which owns the NBC SportsNet Regional Sports Networks in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles Bay Area and Portland/Seattle, nor DIRECTV (AT&T), which owns AT&T SportsNet Regional Sports Networks in Colorado (which carries the Rockies), Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Houston and Pittsburgh, do not offer streaming direct to consumer options to their consumers.”

What can fans do?

The clubs and Altitude have been calling for fans to tell their cable providers how much they want this content while continuing to blame the “Big Three.”

If you’d like to contact your cable provider, you can find all of that information at the bottom of the Altitude Sports homepage.

To be fair, I assume that both parties are to blame and that something will get figured out before the Nuggets and Avs’ seasons start.

But until then, the only way to see Robin Fraser and the Burgundy Boys is to attend a game in person (OR get a VPN and use your ESPN+ account OR you can always listen to Altitude Sports Radio). It’s a fine solution when they’re home, but it sucks to miss the away games, especially since their last game of the season (and Tim Howard’s last game ever) is in Los Angeles.