Grand Slam dunk?

CON GRIWKOWSKY -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:00 AM ET

Storm clouds are gathering on the horizon for curling's Grand Slam.

Last weekend's Canadian Open final in Winnipeg featuring bitter arch-rivals Kevin Martin and Randy Ferbey drew 313,000 viewers on Sportsnet. That edged out the previous record of 296,000 in the 2002 final.

Including Sunday's earlier semifinal, the event attracted 545,000 viewers, the biggest one-day draw for a Grand Slam event.

The Grand Slam needed those numbers as ammunition to convince its corporate sponsors to renew deals that are expiring after the Players Championship at St. John's, Nfld., in late March.

But recent reports confirm long-standing rumours that suggest a wait-and-see stance is developing in the corporate community.

The Grand Slam venture needs to overcome some serious challenges, and speculation is growing that it will have a difficult time answering the bell for next season.

The Edmonton Brier was without a title sponsor until Tim Hortons stepped up to the plate to become the third title sponsor in five years.

MISGUIDED GLEE

There had been some misguided glee in the Internet chat rooms about the Canadian Curling Association's tribulations, but the Grand Slam is now in danger of losing its original title sponsor - drug-store chain PharmAssist.

"No decision has been made about extending the contract. We're currently evaluating the sponsorship," Michelle Lee told the National Post last Friday. Lee is a spokesman for Katz Group, which owns PharmAssist.

BDO Dunwoody, the Hamilton-based accounting firm and third-year sponsors of big-money cashspiels on both the men's and women's tours, has also expressed concerns about its first-year affiliation.

"We'll need to be assured that this continues to be a healthy series ..." Gordon Lee, the firm's marketing director, said in the same story. "Otherwise, going back on our own is a real alternative and one we are willing to take."

Now, I'm no expert on corporatespeak, but the sound bytes sound somewhat ominous.

Television signals cost money to put up and if there's even a hint of diminished value, corporations tend to shy away.

There's even rumblings BDO has had informal discussions with the CCA. Corporations tend to saddle up with perceived winners.

COMPLICATED SITUATION

The situation is further complicated by a promotion within International Management Group, which underwrote the venture with a million-dollar investment. Kevin Albrecht, the original money man, has said the Grand Slam is further along in its development than the PGA Tour. He's sure to keep a keen eye on the proceedings, given his interest in recouping the investment for IMG.

The future of the venture could come down to whether Albrecht's successor in the Toronto office has the same powers of persuasion.

At least one major sponsor, M&M Meatshops, apparently would like to renew, but has not heard from IMG.

World Curling Players Association president Paul Boutilier could not be reached for comment.

BROOM WITH A VIEW: A couple of events to watch this weekend ... Wes Mongtomery's favourite, the Viking Fridge Spiel and the northern Alberta senior men's and women's playdowns at the Glen Allen complex in Sherwood Park.

Defending champ Ferbey will be back in Viking, along with Dean Davidson of Kitscoty, Mark Johnson of Edmonton, Rob Armitage of Red Deer and John Morris of Calgary, whose team members play for various rinks. For those rinks, the event will be a tune-up for the 2005 provincials, beginning Wednesday at Innisfail.


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