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Pierce: Watch TV and root for the (Colorado) home team?

Published April 17, 2013 12:12 am

Sports on TV • Rockies would dearly love for Utahns to watch them on ROOT Sports.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Were you in the stands when the Colorado Rockies and the Seattle Mariners played at Spring Mobile Ballpark a couple of weeks ago?

The Rockies would like you to watch the rest of their games on ROOT Sports. And tell all your friends to watch.

Yes, Denver and Salt Lake City are 500 miles apart. Yes, Utah and Colorado have plenty of rivalries — Real Salt Lake vs. Rapids; Jazz vs. Nuggets; Utes vs. Buffaloes.

Well, it's still just sort of a rivalry with that last one.

But Utah doesn't have a major league baseball team. Utah is part of the Rockies' TV territory, and it matters to the team if we're watching. Because unlike MLB teams in major metropolitan areas, the Rockies reside in the sparsely populated Mountain time zone.

The bulk of the Rockies' ticket-buying fan base "is basically within 25 miles of the Denver metro area," said Gregory D. Faesel, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Rockies. "But the outlying areas are very important, too."

On the East Coast, you have two teams within seven miles in New York; a third 90 miles away in Philadelphia; and three more within a few hundred miles. The MLB team closest to Colorado is 560 miles away (Kansas City) and there are just three more within 700 miles.

The difference, of course, is population density. There are 5.2 million people in Colorado; and about 20 million people in the New York metro area. That's approximately the same number of people who live in the entire Mountain time zone.

That fact contributed to the failure of the Mountain West Sports Network, because that lack of a fan base was a mountain too tall to climb.

Even the Pac-12 Network — which is in markets that dwarf those of the MWC — has struggled with distribution. The Big Ten is adding Rutgers and Maryland more for their TV markets than for their teams.

And the Rockies are striving to reach beyond their home market to make it work. They want fans to watch in Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah.

"Outside of Denver, our largest population base is you guys," Faesel said.

The team's current 10-year, $200 million TV contract with ROOT expires in 2014. If the ratings in Utah improve, that helps ROOT — but it will also help the Rockies in the next round of TV negotiations.

Faesel pointed to how the Braves and the Cubs "were able to extend their brand well beyond their borders" on TBS and WGN, respectively.

ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain won't make the Rockies a national brand, but it can help make them a regional team. Make them the de facto home team for Utahns.

And the ROOT telecasts have a home-team feel even though Utahns can't exactly hop in the car and, on a whim, head over to the stadium. Baseball, perhaps more than any other American sport, relies on tradition. For lack of a better term, the ROOT telecasts feel like a good ol' baseball broadcast.

Almost every game is available on ROOT in Utah — all but a handful when there are conflicts with Jazz games.

The Rockies want you to watch. They need viewers in Utah.

"You want your fan base in your local market to buy into what you're trying to do. And then you just keep expanding it out," Faesel said. "That's why Utah and the Salt Lake market make so much sense for us."

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.