Makeover required

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

It is time to either give the grand old dame a makeover or prepare to bury the big bonspiel in the near future.

The Manitoba Curling Association's 117th annual spiel is guaranteed to be at least 32 teams shy of the perfect draw (512) this week. Last year, it started two short. If the trend continues exponentially, the world's biggest bonspiel could become the world's biggest bust within a decade.

Funny, it was just 17 years ago that it drew a record 1,280 for its centennial. But, what was once known as a week-long bender that rivalled Brier revelry has become too long and, for rural squads at least, too costly. And maybe too staid. And attitudes towards the vast amounts of alcohol once consumed have thankfully matured. At one time, the hotel headquarters was rife with curlers who bounced off the walls from one hospitality suite to the next. Now, not so much.

Curlers have long entered the spiel just because trying to survive the marathon was the traditional thing to do. But, except for a few changes along the way, the basic setup has remained the same. So, perhaps it's time to send for those queer eyes for the straight guys to dress the old doll up.

Since we caved in to join the Chicken Littles of the local scene awaiting the sky to fall, a number of concerned curling citizens have offered The Sun their suggestions as to how the MCA can modernize its age-old spiel.

"I've been saying for 10 years now that one of the problems is that it is too long for both the country and the city teams to have to take time off work to curl," two-time Brier champion Kerry Burtnyk said on the weekend. "Part of the problem is with the rural entries. They are a tiny fraction of what they were 10 years ago. If they'd cut the bonspiel in half, start it Thursday and end it Monday, more guys would play."

Others suggested reducing the number of guaranteed games from eight to six, which would also shorten the spiel. The problem with that, though, is that it would impact curling club revenue, could reduce the number of sponsors involved and cut entry fees, affecting receipts, said MCA executive director Ian Staniloff.

"The rural teams should be subsidized, even if it means that the city teams pay more for entry fees," suggested James Kirkness, a former provincial champ. "I'd be willing to pay a little more to keep it being the top bonspiel in the world.

"From a logical standpoint, it is (too old) but it's always been such a great event that I'd hate to see a major change."

Others want the MCA to get the eight Safeway Select spots the spiel once had back, as opposed to the five now up for grabs. Some suggested setting up discount packages with local hotels while others want more TV, radio and newspaper promos. And a few say dumping the minor-event playoff was a mistake. And yes, one even figures allowing women to enter is the answer.

'LOOK AT ALL IDEAS'

"This bonspiel is something that helps make Winnipeg special and it should be promoted as such," wrote Gary Morris in an e-mail the The Sun. "If you are talking about the long-term health of this great event, you need to look at all ideas."

The MCA did conduct a survey of last year's participants and has already implemented a few of those suggestions.

"But the people they need to ask are the ones who aren't playing," Burtnyk said. "They've got to make changes to get the guys who aren't playing back."

Funny, but no other place in the world could attract more than 450 teams of any sort to a single event, then wonder what it was doing wrong. And maybe just a few touch-ups are all it needs.


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