After several years of litigation, Altitude Sports & Entertainment and Comcast Corporation have reached a settlement in an ongoing federal antitrust case. But while a sign of possible progress in a larger, ongoing dispute, the two remain at odds over a carriage deal, leaving local Avalanche and Nuggets fans in the dark.
The cable provider and the regional sports network announced the deal, which is confidential, on Friday afternoon. According to Comcast, the parties will soon file a stipulation for a disability dismissal of the case.
Altitude previously sued Comcast for alleged antitrust violations in 2019. In the complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, the Denver sports network alleged that Comcast wanted to “destroy competition from Altitude” and “enhance its control through multichannel television distribution in the Denver DMA and nationwide.”
Comcast has denied those allegations and called the lawsuit “baseless,” saying it remains willing to distribute Altitude’s content in a way that won’t raise prices for nearly all customers.
The settlement appears to mark the end of a bitter legal impasse, but will not resolve the ongoing carriage dispute between the media company and the cable provider, a Comcast spokesman said.
“This much is clear – Kroenke Sports controls the teams, the arena and the Altitude network. The ball is in their court to do the right thing and make it available to their fans regardless of their service provider,” said Leslie Oliver, Colorado Communications Director. “Comcast has been clear all along that we want to make the games available to the fans who want to watch them without making everyone else pay.”
The long-running shipping dispute began in 2019, when the deal between the two sides fell through. As a result, all Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets games have been blacked out for Comcast customers, who make up about 92 percent of the market’s cable subscribers, Altitude said in court filings.
In the negotiations, Altitude asked Comcast a “a moderate increase in the consumer price index”, company leaders previously told CBS New Colorado. Comcast said that would raise charges for nearly all customers, while only a small number watch Altitude.
According to Friday’s joint announcement, Comcast and Altitude “remain willing to discuss potential future business and distribution agreements.”
A spokeswoman for Comcast Colorado tells CBS News Colorado that the company has already offered to make the network available to customers on a stand-alone subscription basis, as it does with HBO or Netflix. That would allow customers who want the channel to get it, while the vast majority who Comcast maintains don’t watch the network won’t have to pay for it.
Matt Hutchings, president and CEO of Kroenke Sports and Entertainment Media Ventures, which owns and operates Altitude Sports, said the company wants to be treated the same as other regional sports networks across the country. According to Hutchings, the network asked Comcast in July for the same deal it gave AT&T Sportsnet Rocky Mountain, home of the Colorado Rockies.
“Comcast wants to make an example of Colorado’s independent regional sports network, Altitude Sports,” Hutchings said in October.
Experts say the ongoing dispute is part of a larger problem seen across the country, where regional sports networks (RSNs) and cable providers continue to struggle amid a rapidly changing media landscape.
In some cities, battles over subscription fees have led to similar disruptions. There have been other problems associated with RSN, including Diamond Sports Group, the company that owns Bally Sports, recently filed for bankruptcy after missing an interest payment to bondholders.
“The whole model of sports television is broken right now,” Darin Duber-Smith, a senior lecturer at MSU’s School of Business in Denver, previously told CBS News Colorado. “You’re at a point where something has to give, and I think Avalanche and Comcast are on the front lines of this much larger conflict.”