FREI: Comcast/Altitude fiasco is unfair definition of Kroenke regime

During the Stanley Cup celebration at Civic Center Park, Joe Sakic saluted Avalanche and Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke, who was present at the ceremony but did not go to the podium to speak.

Sakic thanked Kroenke for supporting and providing what the franchise needed to thrive.

I’m not going to exaggerate here when I’m looking for a contrived hot attitude.

The boos among the cheers were Not widespread but noticeable. It was definitely a mixed reaction.

Wait…the Avalanche had just won the NHL championship for the third time in their 27 years in Denver and for the second time under the Kroenke umbrella, and the owner is being booed?

Can you imagine that happening to Pat Bowlen? Of course you couldn’t.

The fact of the matter is that owning Kroenke has been great for Colorado. Stan is Chairman and CEO of Kroenke Sports and Entertainment.

Let me stress this.

Owning Kroenke, which includes Stan’s son Josh, who is both Avalanche and Nuggets president, has been great for Colorado.

Also, respect the other teams in the KSE Colorado portfolio: Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids and National (Indoor) Lacrosse League champion Colorado Mammoth.

KSE also owns Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and Arsenal FC of the Premier League. But that is secondary here. (Unless the family competition is an added boost to the Rob Walton ownership group once the Broncos’ new ownership is taken over. Stan’s wife, Ann Walton Kroenke, who technically owned the Nuggets and Avalanche for a time until well after the NFL crossroads rolled back-property rules, and Rob Walton are cousins.)

The reason for those scattered boos on Thursday was obvious.

They’re tied to the ongoing Comcast/Altitude fiasco, which prevented Avalanche (and Nuggets) from being available on the dominant Denver-area cable system for three seasons.

That’s not how you build a fan base that wants to see a handful of the best players in the world, including Nikola Jokic, Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar, and their teams.

The relatively universal availability of Avalanche games in the playoffs – including across TNT and ABC – was great, but also a reminder of what so many missed out on in the regular season.

I get it. We are Comcast subscribers and frustrated too.

But the boos?

I would have hoped that the issues – the role of ownership in Avalanche’s NHL championship on the one hand; and the KSE/Altitude’s ongoing dispute with the cable operator on the other side – could be separated for at least a day.

I have commented on the dispute on a number of occasions and will not review it again. But to sum it up: It’s a business dispute between a mega-mega-mega-corporation and billionaires.

Stan Kroenke, a competitor in all things including business, wants to win.

Comcast’s motives are unclear, including the possibility that it wouldn’t mind if independent regional sports networks went out of business. RSN’s role in the market has evolved and the model may no longer be viable.

After three years of not receiving any rights fees from Comcast, KSE’s hard line of refusing to simply get the best possible deal from the cable company and considering it the advertising loss leader is intriguing. In my view, that would make economic sense.

But KSE deserves it too some Credit for keeping Altitude on the air, and at least available for those who can get it via DirecTV and other means.

Another settlement conference related to the Altitude lawsuit against Comcast is scheduled for mid-July. Previous conferences were unsuccessful, causing delays and frustration. Maybe this one will be different

Put all that aside for a moment.

Denver is one of four markets with NHL-NBA dual ownership.

The other three are the New York Rangers and Knicks; the Washington Capitals and Wizards; and the Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors. There are disclaimers in the fine print for official ownership structures, particularly in Toronto, but those are the realities of franchise control.

Considered as tandem operations, Kroenke’s own Avalanche and Nuggets are the best of the four.

Actually, one could go further and say that Denver has the best situation of any market with NHL and NBA franchises, regardless of dual or separate ownership. For this, too, Kroenkes deserves credit.

In Avalanche’s case, the owner’s strength is recognizing what he doesn’t know, hiring employees who traverse up and down the org chart he trusts, and allowing them to get the job done. Stan and Josh Kroenke, both from basketball backgrounds, are more active in NBA discussions.

In a hard-cap NHL, payroll parameters are pretty much set by the CBA, so it’s not about giving financial carte blanche. I remember once asking Josh Kroenke if he was available for an Avalanche draft class, what his philosophy was about the NHL’s free rein. He pointed across the room at Sakic and said, “My philosophy is whatever he says.”

Perhaps the excitement of this championship will hasten the construction of a new practice facility/rink for the Avalanche, whether in conjunction with a new Nuggets Practice Studio or otherwise.

I would have hoped that the Kroenkes would have been upset or even outraged at the unfair and untimely boos and moved to address the matter.

But it’s business.

Stan Kroenke also likes to win there.

The dual ownership details:

DENVER

Owner: Kroenke Sports and Entertainment; Stan Kroenke, Chairman and CEO

NHL: Colorado Avalanches

Regular Season: 56-19-7

Playoffs: Beat Tampa Bay in Stanley Cup Finals, won NHL Championship

NBA: Denver Nuggets

Regular Season: 48-34

Playoffs: Lost to Golden State in the first round

NEW YORK

Owner: Madison Square Garden Sports Corp.; James Dolan, Chairman and CEO

NHL: New York Rangers

Regular Season: 52-24-6

Playoffs: Loss to Tampa Bay in Eastern Conference Finals

NBA: New York Knicks

Regular Season: 37-45

Didn’t make the playoffs

TORONTO

Owner: Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment; Larry Tannenbaum, Chairman

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs

Regular Season: 54-21-7

Playoffs: Lost to Tampa Bay in the first round

NBA: Toronto Raptors

Regular Season: 48-34

Playoffs: Lost to Philadelphia in the first round

WASHINGTON

Owner: Monumental Sports and Entertainment; Ted Leonsis, Founder, Majority Owner, Chairman and CEO.

NHL: Washington Capitals

Regular Season: 44-26-12

Playoffs: Lost to Florida in the first round

NBA: Washington Wizards

Regular Season: 35-47

Didn’t make the playoffs

Terry Free (terry@terryfrei.com, @tfrei) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been peer-voted for a state’s sportswriter of the year seven times—four in Colorado and three in Oregon. His seven books include the novels Olympic Affair and The Witch’s Season. His five nonfiction books include Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming, Third Down and a War to Go, March 1939: Before the Madness, and ’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming. of age.” He also worked with Adrian Dater “Save By Roy” was a longtime vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and has covered the Hockey Rockies, Avalanche and the NHL in general. His site is www.terryfrei.com and his biography is available at www.terryfrei.com/bio.html

His column archive Colorado Hockey Now can be accessed here

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