‘It’s the fans that are losing’: Colorado Avalanche fans forced to work to watch their favorite team on TV
Local sports bar BrauHaus finds solution, much to the delight of one Steamboat family
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Colorado Avalanche started its 24th season in the NHL with an 8-1-1 record. In Sports Illustrated’s Oct. 23 power rankings, they were No. 1. The Avalanche was the last one to lose a game in regulation.
Unfortunately, most fans had no way to watch what was one of the team’s strongest starts in franchise history.
Altitude Sports and Entertainment, the network that carries Avalanche and Denver Nuggets games, was no longer available on Comcast, DirecTV or Dish Network. The three major TV providers were negotiating with Altitude, which is owned by Kroenke Sports and Entertainment and Stan Kroenke, who owns the Denver Nuggets and Avalanche. So, anyone with those providers had no access to Avalanche games when the season started Oct. 3. Of course, NHL TV blacks out local markets, so a subscription to that wasn’t worth it for fans.
It wasn’t until the evening of Oct. 31 that Altitude and DirecTV announced they came to a deal and that Avalanche and Nuggets games would be available to DirecTV viewers — though Comcast and Dish Network subscribers would still be left in the dark.
For a while, the only way for Steamboat Springs residents to watch their team was to find an illegal and questionable stream.
That was, until they discovered Zirkel Wireless.
Zirkel is now in the early stages of offering television, and in the interest of providing local sports to customers, Zirkel carries Altitude rather than fighting the network on pricing. While very few people have Zirkel TV, it can be found at the BrauHaus in Steamboat.
“The reason we found out about this place, we started looking for options. How are we possibly going to get it?” wondered Kevin Sankey, a Steamboat resident and avid Avs fan. “Those big three providers, all were in the same dispute. When we found out Zirkel Wireless was now launching, we got very interested. … They let us know they had it down at the BrauHaus.”
Sankey and his family have been fans since Day One. Literally. He and his family were season ticket holders for the Nuggets when the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver and was renamed the Avalanche. Since the teams were owned by the same man, Nuggets season ticket holders got first crack at Avalanche season tickets. The Sankeys said, “Why not.”
“We got to see the first Stanley Cup with them,” Sankey said. “We were at Game 7 when they won the second Stanley Cup with the big tribute to Ray Bourque. It was awesome.”
A decade of front row seats instilled a deep love for the team that expanded to the three Sankey siblings, particularly to Kevin’s sons.
“It’s been a great bond within the family,” he said.
While they no longer have the tickets, since the arena is so far from their home in Steamboat, watching the Avalanche has become a family activity. Even as their older son is at school at Dartmouth College, and their daughter has moved out as well, they use a family group text to share the games together. The BrauHaus allowed the Sankey’s to keep up with that tradition.
“Game on,” Kevin Scorzafava said as he turned around from the BrauHaus bar to let Sankey, sitting at the table behind him, know the puck dropped for Thursday’s game against Nashville. Fifty-nine seconds later, Avs defender Cale Makar put his team up 1-0. Sankey’s phone went off. He got a message from one of his sons watching the game elsewhere.
The goal was the first of nine in a ridiculous 9-4 win over the Predators. The victory was the first following a 4-0-1 stretch through the start of November.
Sankey and Scorzafava met through watching the games at the BrauHaus. Scorzafava was also a Day One fan, “trading in” his love of professional basketball for the NHL when the Avalanche came to town.
Scorzafava used to live on the Front Range and would go to up to 20 Avs games a year. Now, he relies solely on Altitude TV to watch his beloved team. He says he watches about 90% of the games over the course of the season, so suddenly not having the ability to do so forced quite a lifestyle change.
“I’ve been to five games here. It’s because it’s not on regular TV,” Scorzafava said, sitting inside BrauHaus. “I’m obviously annoyed. I’d rather watch it at home. I’m a big fan of the BrauHaus, as well, so I do tend to visit here and they have the Avalanche.”
The BrauHaus extends happy hour and offers food and drink specials to add to the appeal of watching the games there.
“We were the beta customer with Zirkel’s new package. It’s been great, we love Zirkel. They do a great job for us. It’s been really cool,” said Barry Guis, owner and manager of BrauHaus. “It’s kind of a bummer that nobody else has had it, but it gives us a little bit of a competitive edge.”
Reaching a deal
DirecTV customers can now watch the Nuggets, the second best team in the West, and the Avs, the fourth best team in the West, but there are still plenty of people who cannot.
There is even a petition that is gaining traction that is posted on the Avalanche team page to encourage Comcast and Dish Network to reach a deal and allow customers to watch the teams they love.
Due to the availability of NFL Sunday Ticket, most sports bars have DirecTV, so they are now able to air Avalanche and Nuggets games.
Carl’s Tavern in downtown Steamboat didn’t have a noticeable drop in attendance or revenue, but manger Garrett Morello said that if it were a more crucial part of the season, it would have had more of a negative impact on the business.
Dude and Dan’s owner Brandon Pfaff said if the negotiations lasted months rather than weeks, it would be a different story.
“If that was something that was going to be long-term, seasonwide, I think that would definitely have a dramatic effect on businesses like ours,” Pfaff said.
There was one night Carl’s was able to air an Avalanche game, but it took some ingenuity. A customer was streaming the game on his phone and when he saw Carl’s had a smart TV, he asked if he could project the stream onto it.
“That gathered a little bit of a crowd in the corner of the bar,” Morello said. “That was kind of cool.”
There haven’t been tons of complaints at either location regarding the lack of Nuggets and Avs games, but some confusion and disappointment has been voiced throughout the hold out.
As a businessman and only a casual fan, Guis isn’t bitter about the situation.
“Honestly, as a business owner, I sympathize,” he said. “They’re negotiating long-term, multiyear deals and that makes a huge difference in their revenue. I don’t feel bad for Stan Kroenke. He’s got billions in the bank. But at the same time, any true businessperson is going to negotiate the best deal they can.”
As for Sankey and Scorzafava, they have less sympathy.
Sankey said his family is strongly considering switching to Zirkel as soon as they can. He said he spoke with DirecTV when he was made aware of the negotiations, but they didn’t seem to care.
“Very likely, we’re gonna switch to Zirkel TV,” he said. “We like the fact that they’re local. We like the fact that they seem to care about what people think. Even if the cost is neutral or costs a little more, it’s very likely we’ll switch because we want to support that.”
Scorzafava isn’t as convinced to change, but the inconvenience of the past six weeks is prompting him to think about his options.
“I wish they would just figure it out. It’s the fans that are losing. It’s us,” he said. “They’re not losing anything.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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