Vic Lombardi is frustrated.
Everywhere he goes, the Altitude TV host and multiple winner of Westword's Best TV Sportscaster award runs into fans upset about not being able to see most Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche games on Comcast because of a fight over broadcasting rights that began in the summer of 2019 and shows no sign of being resolved. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of those fans blame Altitude TV for the deadlock. After all, the network (as well as the Nuggets, Avs, Colorado Mammoth and Colorado Rapids) are owned by billionaire Stan Kroenke, who, by their way of thinking, could simply write a check and make the problem go away but is obstinately refusing to do so.
According to Lombardi, the situation isn't nearly so simple. He feels that both parties (plus DISH, which isn't airing the channel, either) are to blame, with Altitude shouldering some responsibility for failing to clearly communicate about alternative ways to view its programming. As for Comcast, he thinks the cable giant is essentially getting a free ride despite what he sees as it overcharging customers for regional sports network coverage they haven't gotten for nearly a year and a half.
"You never want to stick me in the middle of something like this," he admits. "The viewers will kill me for it. But I just want to make sure both sides are under the microscope, not just one."
For its part, Comcast casts Altitude as the cause of the problem, as it has since the beginning of the controversy, and maintains that it's committed to making sure that sports fans are getting their money's worth whether they can watch the Nuggets and Avs or not.
The battle began in earnest on August 29, 2019, when DISH switched off Altitude over the amount of the fees it was paying to carry its programming. Comcast and DIRECTV followed suit on August 31. Negotiations over the next month or two bore some fruit in late October, when Altitude reached an agreement with DIRECTV. But additional pacts involving the other two firms didn't appear, and matters got uglier that November when Altitude pressed a lawsuit against Comcast, alleging improper monopolistic behavior and more. Comcast subsequently asked for the complaint to be dismissed, and litigation has continued without pause ever since.
Comcast spokesperson Leslie Oliver notes the corporation's partial victory in one recent face-off: "The court dismissed most of Altitude’s frivolous claims in November, and the court expressed skepticism about the one remaining claim it did not reject outright. We look forward to getting the rest of this case dismissed promptly." She adds, "It’s unfortunate Altitude prefers to continue pursuing meritless legal claims instead of negotiating a reasonable and mutually workable deal that would allow fans to have even more viewing options."
Claims of overcharging are hardly new. Just over a month after the figurative plug-pulling, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser sent Comcast a letter questioning the ongoing demand of $8 per month for access to regional sports networks, or RSNs, when Altitude wasn't being aired. The RSN rate was later lowered to $6.75, but Lombardi sees that as a rip-off, since the sole network of the sort on Comcast in the Denver area right now is AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, whose only major local pro team is the Colorado Rockies — and its main basketball squad is the Utah Jazz, a big rival of the Nuggets.
If the original $8 charge meant $4 each for Altitude and AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, Lombardi wants to know where the hell the $6.75 figure came from. "You only had about two and a half months of a Rockies season over the last year — so for seven months, you've been paying $6.75 for nothing," he notes. "That's why it's in their best interest to let this drag on."
Oliver maintains, "We continue to pay the RSNs their standard negotiated rates despite the pandemic" — excluding Altitude, of course. Last April, she continues, "we announced we would work on behalf of our customers to secure fee adjustments from RSNs for games that weren’t played in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are now passing through those credits to customers."
The amount of the adjustment "will vary by market, the RSNs at issue and the relevant adjustment period," she says. "We are committed to offering our customers adjustments of 100 percent of what we receive from RSNs — now and in the future. The timing of credits for these markets is based on whether and when we received the credits from the RSNs in those markets."
"I've heard from folks who've been rebated by them," Lombardi acknowledges, "but you have to do your due diligence." In other words, the customer must initiate the conversation and negotiate with Comcast reps to get rate adjustments that he's heard are in the $30 to $40 range.
In the meantime, Lombardi points out, Nuggets and Avs fans can still see games if they switch to DIRECTV or stream AT&T's entertainment package, which goes for $69.99 per month plus tax. Granted, doing so can be inconvenient and costly, "but it's available," he says.
For most people, though, "We're sixteen months into this squabble and they still have no access to the two best teams in the market," Lombardi notes — and while the Avalanche season is currently paused because of a COVID-19 outbreak, the Nuggets are going strong, blowing out the Cleveland Cavaliers last night.
Not that most people were able to see it.
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