Denver Regional Sports Network Sues Comcast For Antitrust Violation Amid Carriage Dispute

Ted Johnson

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Comcast is facing an antitrust lawsuit from a Denver regional sports network, which claims that the cable giant is using its market power to try to extract much more favorable terms that would put it out of business.

Altitude Sports and Entertainment, which produces and telecasts games from the the Colorado Avalanche hockey team and Denver Nuggets basketball team and other local sports, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Denver. Comcast calls the lawsuit “meritless.”

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The Altitude sports programming has been unavailable on Comcast’s platform since Aug. 31, leaving a big chunk of viewership without access to games. Over the weekend, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis urged a resolution, tweeting, “Bring our teams back to our screens!”

Altitude claims that Comcast, with a 57% market share among multichannel distributors, was demanding “unjustifiably and unreasonably low fees” and that it “refuses to pay us anything close to fair market fees,” said Matt Hutchings, the president of the RSN. He also said that Comcast also wants to move the channel to a more expensive cable tier.

The lawsuit claims that Comcast is a “monopsonist,” or a purchaser of programming with market power over regional sports programming. It claims that the cable and internet giant wants to “own and centralize” regional sports programming in the Denver market so that it can collect a regional sports fee and gain control over sports rights for its own networks.

“As the only cable provider for the vast majority of consumers in the Denver DMA, Comcast is able to use its power as a local cable monopoly to control consumers and use them to achieve its ends,” the lawsuit claims. The company is represented by William Isaacson, Amy Mauser and Robert Cooper of Boies Schiller Flexner.

Altitude has reached a carriage agreement with DirecTV, but has no agreement with Comcast or another provider, Dish Network.

Comcast collects a regional sports fee from subscribers, and has been offering credits to its customers. But the lawsuit claims that the credit does not match Comcast’s cost savings from no longer featuring the Altitude channels.

In a statement, Comcast said that the lawsuit was “meritless” in an “intensely competitive market where Comcast has no competitive regional sports network and Altitude has multiple distribution alternatives.”

“Instead of pursuing baseless litigation, Altitude should engage in responsible commercial negotiations that would allow Comcast to distribute its programming to those customers who want it without driving up costs for customers who do not,” Comcast said. “Since at this point Altitude has rejected all reasonable offers, we have provided our customers with a credit until we reach an agreement.  We will vigorously defend ourselves against Altitude’s claims.”

Altitude is owned by Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, which is controlled by Stan Kroenke. He’s a major player in spots, as the owner of teams such as the Avalanche and the Nuggets, as well as the Los Angeles Rams.

 

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