Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Why Not An Outdoor Curling Classic?

Over at the (no longer Canadian) Curling News blog, there are some links to a fine story about ice God Hans Wuthrich’s work with the outdoor ice classic the NHL is running in Chicago on Jan. 1. If Hans has anything to do with it, the Red Wings and Blackhawks will have good ice.
But that got me wondering why we don’t stage a big outdoor curling event? Certainly there have been lots of outdoor exhibitions, including one at Rockefeller Plaza in NY, NY. A few years ago there was a big event at High Park in Toronto where they played on Grenadier Pond. There was even an attempt at throwing the longest rock, i.e. they built a strip of curling ice a few hundred feet in length and tried to see how far someone could throw it. I remember John Kawaja tossed it a pretty fair distance but I can’t remember if it was a record of any kind.
I also know there are lots of folks who curl outside for fun across the country. Gord Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies has a set of curling rocks at his cottage that he uses for an annual spiel.
But rather than some sort of fun exhibition, why not make it a televised event, with money on the line. A serious competition. How about moving the TSN Skins Game outside? Maybe you could hold a cash event outdoors? Sure some curlers would complain because the ice conditions wouldn’t be great if the weather was off, but imagine the attention and the notoriety it would give the game?
What have you got to lose?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Curling and the economy

I was asked on a radio show the other day how curling’s big events would be affected by the economic conditions of the day. To me, it’s a good news-bad news situation.
On one hand, both the Season of Champions and the Capital One Grand Slams have their title sponsors locked up for the next few years, at least through 2010. That’s good. So is the fact that there are solid television deals in place. The Season of Champions, exclusively on TSN is through 2016 (I believe), while the Slams on CBC have at least a couple more years. Again, that’s good.
Where these events, including the Trials next year, will get hammered is at the second and third tiers. The local sponsors who buy year by year, the folks who buy ticket packages such as corporate boxes, etc. They’re not locked into contracts and unless the offer is very attractive, they won’t buy. These are the sort of discretional dollars that get axed during the down times.
This line of thinking is also why the Asham World Curling Tour might be vulnerable as it depends largely on local sponsorship which doesn’t really offer much of the way in returns. Most cashspiel sponsors (not all though) put up the money not because they’re expecting notoriety or some kind of payoff, but because they’re a) curling fans or b) helping out the community. Again, that becomes tough to justify when the economy sucks.
Of course, it’s not so much a curling problem as a sports marketing problem.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Top 10 Curling Moments of 2008

As we near the end of the year, and as most mainstream media ignore curling as part of their year-end lists, I put together my top 10 curling stories of 2008:

1. CRA goes after Wayne Middaugh and friends
This one has actually been going on for some time, but it came to a head in ’08. The Canada Revenue Agency wants to tax the curling winnings of Middaugh and a number of other curlers saying they should be paying tax on the cash. Why is this the No. 1 story? Because if the gang loses, the effect on competitive curling could be devastating. Middaugh is just the test case. As one top-level curler told me: “If he loses, I’m going to have to declare bankruptcy.”

2. Kevin Martin finally wins a world title.
After all those attempts, all those misses, K-Mart finally gets his global crown. Good on him and his team.

3. China finishes second at Women’s worlds
Bingyu Wang and her team scared the heck out of Jennifer Jones and the rest of the women at the Ford World Curling Championships by rolling through the round robin before finally getting derailed in the final. While most of the top teams know how good Rockin’ Betty and her gals are (they train eight hours a day, six days a week, for crying out loud), the rest of the world had its eyes opened. China is now a force in world curling.

4. Glenn Howard wins six straight spiels to start cash season
He’s been in the Brier final the last three years and if there were any thoughts that perhaps he’d peaked, they were wiped away at the start of the ’08 Asham World Curling Tour as Howard along with Hart, Savill and Laing took top cash in six straight events. Howard missed the first one, the Shorty spiel in Brockville, due to a hernia, but Rich took over skipping duties and won.

5. Canadian Mixed held in Iqaluit
The first national sporting championship held in the northern territory, the CCA gets kudos for making the expensive trek to Nunavut. Those who played in it said it was an experience they’ll never forget.

6. CCA ends the year in the black
An impressive combination of belt-tightening and good timing allowed the national governing body of curling to wipe out the big deficit handed to it after some not-so-successful championships and legal costs. The new CEO Greg Stremlaw gets applause for putting some management to the association and Edmonton gets a bigger thanks for coughing up a $900,000 cheque for hosting the Canadian Curling Trials.

7. Passing of Don Wittman and Don Chevrier
Two legends of broadcasting left an indelible mark on the roaring game. Think back to every great championship, every great shot and the voices you hear in your memory bank are those of these two gentlemen. Not only did they put forth the true professional job in covering curling, they both truly had a passion for the sport and it showed in their work. They will be missed.

8. Return of the morning draws on TSN
Not only was this great for fans from coast to coast, but especially for the media covering the events, who could once again wake up in their hotel rooms, usually after a late night in the hostility suite, and watch the action avoiding a trip down to the rink where we spend waaaay tooo much time anyway.

9. Jennifer Jones wins the Canadian and world championship
An impressive performance by this Winnipeg team. Why do they win? Because they’re talented, they’re dedicated and they play to win, instead of not to lose.

10. Brazil announces it will challenge for the Americas spot at the WCC
Brazil? Here I thought the only Brazilian in curling was in that calendar. Now according to those who’ve seen them in action, the squad from Brazil would have a tough time winning the B flight in most steak spiels, but you have to start somewhere and these guys are going to take on the Americans for a spot at the worlds.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Continental Cup, RIP

The Continental Cup finally seemed to generate some excitement this time around. Even a guy like me who has always had problems with the event had to admit that there was some great curling, some genuine edge-of-the-seat stuff. There were reports of Kevin Martin running about behind the ice, pumping fists. Here’s what he told the Great Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun:
"It doesn't get any better than that!" he enthused.
"I mean, that was amazing! Sports doesn't get any better than that! Any sport! I don't care what sport you're talking.It was within a centimetre on every single sheet!"

And yes, there was all that nonsense of the lineup problems that just goes to show you how silly the rules are – I mean, if you have a rule stating that Americans have to play a certain number of games, what does that say about the Americans? It’s a slap in the face. Even the official WCF release on the event more or less buried the embarrassing controversy.
But I digress. As I said, I was intrigued by the play too. Those draws to the button were spectacular. As for the rest of it, well. . .
To me the Continental Cup was never properly set up. It’s a good idea that got twisted and turned into the event it is, something that doesn’t have the significance it should.
So what’s wrong? Well for starters, holding it every year is too much. It’s too much for the players, for the fans and, most importantly, for the build up of the event. It loses any sense of being something special, of being important. The Ryder Cup isn’t held every year and that allows for a build-up of the us-versus-them stuff, so necessary to making this work. Every second year would make sense.
Second are the formats being used. And I concede that this event is a great place to try things out, to test innovation. As well, for television, it can be interesting to do something different. But sometimes they work and sometimes the don’t and you have to admit that.
I’m OK with the regular games. And the Skins. Mixed skins? OK, but maybe too much of the same.
Mixed Doubles? Sorry, I just don’t buy this, especially after they got rid of the designated sweepers last year. Seeing great curlers like Carter Rycroft get up and run after his rock to sweep it looks like amateur hour. I used to do that in junior.
Singles? Maybe, and just maybe. But at least make the shots somewhat difficult. I mean that draw through the port – you could have driven a truck through that “port.” It’s entertaining but it’s not really curling, is it? It’s like having long-driving and closest-to-the-pin competitions at the Presidents Cup but I’ll give on this one.
The one event that’s missing is a two-team competition, once the staple of championship curling. Two teams, say a men’s and a women’s, play their opposite numbers in regular curling games and the total score counts.
So here’s the way I’d set it up. Day 1: Singles in the morning, followed by regular games in the afternoon; Day 2: Two-team in the morning and skins in the afternoon; Day 3: regular games in the morning and skins in the afternoon.
Third – and this is the biggest for me -- is the scoring. It’s just plain goofy and for the average fan, way too hard to follow. Maybe that’s why nowhere on the web site is the point allocation spelled out. Certain events are worth more than others skins games have different values depending on when they’re held. And there’s absolutely no consistency. For example, the first regular games are worth six points each. Teams play eight ends for a possible six points. Yet the singles, which is a grand total of six shots, is worth four points. Does that seem right? One skins game is worth 20 points and another is valued at 55.
I’m sure there must be an easier way to work the scoring into a simple easy-to-understand format while still allowing it all to come down to the final day.
Of course all this could be moot because it would appear the Continental Cup is dead or at least on life support. Right now, there’s no title sponsor for the event (however, there was a good lineup of lower-tier sponsors) and while there is a scheduled year off in 2009 owing to Olympic Trials, the future is somewhat bleak.
In truth, the event has been slipping. The purse went from $200,000 in the first year down to just under $90,000 the last two years; the winners got $2,000 while the runners-up took home $1,400 (that includes the coaches and captains, by the way).
I’d love to see the Continental Cup survive because I think it could even thrive under the right circumstances, but to me, this was an event that missed too many possibilities and opportunities.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Only three shopping days left!

Here's my shameless plug for that Christmas present for the curler on your list. Easy reading and lots of fun (if I don't say so myself).
It's available at most major bookstores from coast to coast!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Interesting comment

Just watching the Continental Cup (rant still to come). It's the seventh end of the mixed skins (mixed skins!?!?!) and there are eight points available. Linda Moore just made this comment:

"I thought we might see some lower-risk play as well with this many points available. You don't want to take a chance in giving up a skin."

Wow! This may tell you all you need to know about the difference between men and women's curling.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Talking with The Boss

I had a conversation yesterday with Greg Stremlaw for an upcoming article I'm doing and was once again refreshed with his honesty, professionalism and dedication. It's quite refreshing (if you know what I mean!).

We discussed many things, including the CCA's financial status, which is back in the black thanks to his attention to details, some cutting, belt-tightening and a big cheque from the folks in Edmonton who are hosting the Trials. What I really liked about his thoughts on this topic was that it's no time to rest. Yes, the CCA corrected the problem it had, but there's no reason why it should stop there. It needs to keep watching the bottome line so it can invest in the future.

Stremlaw said the association is well-positioned from now until 2010 but he's thinking long-term, past the Olympics when the dew will be gone. There's a real need to get more people tossing rocks and he acknowledges that. IT will take money and effort to bring new people into the game -- folks from non-traditional curling backgrounds, i.e. new Canadians, and that means starting from ground zero.

He also said that many of the provincial association are working with the CCA to see where they can save funds by ending duplication of services. Wow -- what a novel idea (that's sarcasm there, folks). Why didn't this happen, oh, about 500 years ago?

Anyway, the full story will be in the Ontario Curling Report in a few weeks.

Until then, the Continental Cup. Tomorrow I'll give my annual rant on this silly event.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Thoughts on The National

I had a chance to watch the final of The National today and enjoyed the game even though the match was decided on misses rather than makes. I think you’d be hard pressed to remember a weekend where there were so many big misses that decided games. Both semi-finals were decided on big misses – one by Kevin Martin that was almost a whiff, and one by Dave Nedohin that was a draw that came up short.
But in the final, the last three rocks were misses, Gushue with two and Middaugh with one. I’m sure no one was more surprised at winning than Middaugh, at least after he threw his last rock. Gushue had a rock at the back of the four-foot to come to but came heavy. I think his explanation of what happened is something that a lot of curlers, both at the WCT level and the club level, fall into.
“On that type of shot you can’t really use the backing,” said Gushue, the reigning Olympic gold medallist. “If you throw weight to get to the backing it’s not going to curl which is what happened. I really just had to throw T-line weight and I threw back four, back eight weight and that’s the reason we missed the shot.”

So a few questions on the weekend:
* When did Kevin Martin add Uncle Ben’s to his sponsor list? Uncle Ben’s?
* Was I the only one who noticed this came down to a battle of meat sponsors? Gushue with Maple Leaf and Middaugh with M&M Meat Shops.
* How much do you think Wayne and the boys gave Max?
* Is everyone as impressed with Bruce Rainnie as I am? He knows that sometimes the less said, the better.