Fans of the Minnesota Wild or the Chicago Blackhawks don’t have trouble catching their team on television at Sobo 151, Denver’s standard hockey bar going on 19 years. But if you want to catch their rivals, the hometown Colorado Avalanche, don’t expect to watch it at the South Broadway establishment — or anywhere else in Colorado.
Most people who’ve tried to watch the Avs via the Altitude Sports channel know it hasn’t aired any for the entire regular season, which is so far two games long. Comcast, DirectTV and Dish Network dropped the channel from their menus over contract disputes with Kroenke Sports and Entertainment (read: billionaire Stan Kroenke), which owns both the Avs and the station that broadcasts them. So, yes, this also affects Denver Nuggets and Colorado Rapids games.
“It’s not fair not only to Colorado people, Colorado teams,” said Dena Stuart, the Czech-American co-owner of Sobo 151 who manages the bar with her son Filip Stirbal. “It’s not fair to everybody.”
As far as Avs fans are concerned the blackout began last Thursday. The Nuggets start regular-season play Oct. 23.
Hockey season is Sobo’s bread and butter, but not so much this season. Bartenders still play most National Hockey League games with the NHL TV package, but the Avs blackout has reduced hockey season traffic by more than 50 percent, bartender Simone McGinnis estimates.
“We are still above water. We’re not gonna close the doors, you know, but it also does take away our gimmick, our homecoming,” McGinnis said.
Some local fans who didn’t see the up-and-coming Avs at the Pepsi Center for the club’s first two home games streamed the game illegally online. Charlie Sullivan, a longtime fan who watched the Avs live in their inaugural and championship season, told Denverite he doesn’t go out to watch them anymore — because he can’t.
“It’s pretty bogus not being able to watch your team that I’ve spent countless dollars on and time on,” he said.
Altitude has been through disputes with large networks before. And they’ve been resolved before. Sobo’s owner said she’s not concerned the holdout will last forever but she is concerned about who gets the shaft amid a fight between companies worth billions.
When both the Avs and the Nuggets made playoff runs last season, Denver bars showing the games saw big increases in business.
“It’s a matter of time and it’s a matter of money,” Stuart said.