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Keeler: Nuggets, Nikola Jokic still best show nobody can watch. And Suns fans, who see Phoenix games for free, wonder how Denver puts up with it. “It’s messed up.”

The Suns ship antennas. The Nuggets ship blame.

“The (Kroenkes) should definitely look to maximize the fan base,” Adam Fox told me as he entered Ball Arena on Tuesday night. “Which means they need to make every opportunity available to customers who don’t have easy access to it via their cable providers.”

Sound like anybody you know?

Fox, who left his home in Tucson, Ariz., for some Colorado grass, drove down to Ball for Nuggets-Suns from Fort Collins. He’s a speck of Valley Purple in an sea of Championship Denver Gold. Still, he said his buddies with the Nikola Jokic replica jerseys sometimes get a little envious of his pals down south.

Long story short, Bally Sports Arizona went the way of AT&T Rocky Mountain before the start of the ’23-24 season, leaving the Suns without a television home. So they made their own.

Like the Rockies, they’ve launched their own over-the-top, team-specific streaming service, for a subscriber fee, although it’s only available in Arizona and parts of New Mexico. Unlike the Rockies (so far), they’ve also made their game available via over-the-air, old-school broadcast TV. And to help that effort, Suns owner Matt Ishbia sent digital antennas to any Arizona household — including those in Tucson — who requested them. For free.

“They think it’s only one little extra layer of inconvenience, but they can remain fans and they remain invested,” Fox said of his friends back in the desert.

“And I think, if you’re having to think about your long-term stability, you figure that (part) out. There are ways to continue to get your fan base connected and stay involved in everything that relates to what your organization wants to do. Which is provide an experience for the fans.”

So far, so good. According to the Sports Business Journal, viewership is up 94% from last February to this one. As of Feb. 6, in fact, only two NBA franchises had seen a larger increase of eyeballs, year-over-year: The Timberwolves, via Bally Sports North (107% increase), and … the Nuggets, via Altitude, whose numbers were reportedly up 139%.

Which is great, although some context helps here, too. In February 2022, SBJ’s John Ourand reported that Altitude registered an NBA-worst 0.19 rating in the Denver market — the lowest TV number recorded in any pro hoops market for nearly two decades.

The Cold War between Kroenke Sports Entertainment (KSE) and Comcast, the largest cable provider on the Front Range and no angel of virtue itself, is six months away from its fifth birthday. Yes, the Nuggets are growing an audience as they build a dynasty. But they’re also doing it on their terms. Streaming’s expensive. A cash-burner.

Scouting the concourses before Suns-Nuggets, I ran into Phoenix fans from six states, including Colorado. The Midwest types who dropped in watch games via the NBA’s League Pass. And when I explained Denver’s television situation to Suns supporter Michael DeAngelis, who flew in from New Jersey, he became borderline apoplectic.

“Every team should do (what Phoenix does),” DeAngelis said. “I don’t get why it’s blacked out for local, in-market games.”

Money, probably. Isn’t it always?

“Exactly,” he replied. “But the Nuggets owner, if he really cares about his fans, should be digging into his own pockets. (They) should be able to provide you satellites and stuff to get it set up …

“It’s (messed) up. Every team should have it.”

The Kroenkes are as loyal as they are stubborn as Missouri mules, which is admirable, as corporate figureheads go. They don’t want to give up on Altitude, despite the market headwinds decimating regional sports networks left and right.

But can you imagine how many more Jokic and Murray jerseys might be on the backs of kids, never mind Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon sweaters, if the Nuggets and Avs had the kind of penetration in their own backyard the Suns are getting in theirs?

Because players notice this stuff, too. Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon recently blamed some of Jamal Murray’s annual All-Star snub on the lack of broadcast exposure he gets back home.

“First we could start,” Gordon posted to X on Feb. 17, “by playing our own games on TV in our local market.”

Like the man said, it’s messed up. Picking sides on KSE-vs.-Comcast is like picking favorites in a Kaiju throwdown that’s raging a block away. No matter who wins, the little guys are the ones who always wind up getting stepped on.

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