Londoners get headstart for 2006 Hearts tickets

Steve Green, Free Press Sports Reporter

, Last Updated: 10:50 AM ET

Starting today, London and area curling fans will get a week's head start on the rest of Canada for tickets to the 2006 Scott Tournament of Hearts. Until this fall, only week-long packages will be available for the national women's curling championship next Feb. 25-March 5 at the John Labatt Centre, host committee chair Peter Inch said yesterday.

They are $275 for upper-bowl side seats, $300 for lower-bowl side seats and upper-bowl end seats, and $325 for lower-bowl end seats.

The packages, which also include free admission to the Heartstop Lounge at the convention centre, won't be advertised on national TV for another week.

"The goal is to sell out,'' Inch said, who added that he doesn't see using the entire JLC as a gamble. "If London wants to attract a Brier or an Olympic trials, we've got to be able to show we can sell out 9,000 seats.

"We also know if it wasn't for taxpayers' money paying for a facility like this, things like this wouldn't happen, so we want to make sure they have the best chance to get the best seats in the house."

Once weekly packages are sold, Inch said opening weekend and championship weekend packages would become available, with single-draw tickets going on sale a month before the event. As well, the event's business committee will be looking at ways to attract young fans to games.

The event's vice-chairs are also in place. Sandra Kleinstiver (business), Ted Smith (facilities), Kerry Lackie (Heartstop Lounge), Lorie Hill (hosting) and Ann Lapchinski (special events and volunteers) have decades of curling experience . As well, event co-ordinator Gord McNabb, who managed the 2004 Hearts in Red Deer, Alta., and 2004 Continental Cup in Medicine Hat, Alta., is now in the city. He'll be a liaison between the host committee and the Canadian Curling Association.

The host committee executive will be heading to St. John's, Nfld., for this year's Hearts, which opens Feb. 19.

"We're looking at three main things," Inch said. "One, we want to take a look at what didn't work and make sure we don't make the same mistakes.

"Two, we want to see the flow of fans and volunteers and see the areas where the volunteers are needed most. And thirdly, we want to see when the biggest rush of fans occurs to the lounge."

He said about 600 volunteers will be needed for the 2006 Hearts -- from media-bench construction to ticket sales to bar and wait staff. Applications will be taken starting March 7.

"I must get about 10 e-mails a day from people wondering where they can go to volunteer," he said.

Given the area's recent history of volunteer success at such events as the 2001 Canada Summer Games, Inch says he has no worries about being able to attract enough qualified helpers.

Nor will he have to worry about the host clubs being stuck with any losses on the event. It's being run under the CCA's event management model, which eliminates financial risk by the host committee.

Any net proceeds will be split among the CCA's domestic development fund, the Ontario Curling Association and the four host clubs.

In terms of local corporate sponsorship, Inch said that's "slow, but it is coming. . . . We don't want to hurt the Memorial Cup, so we really haven't made a big push yet."

Inch said committee members will be hitting every curling club between Mississauga and Windsor over the next year and will also be at summer events such as Ribfest and Sunfest.

There's even a plan to have roses planted along King Street as a constant reminder.

Around the house

Tillie Nyilas of Aylmer won the B side of masters women's (60-and-over) regional playdowns at her own club to advance to the provincial finals starting Wednesday at Stratford.

The men's field will include two-time champ Jim Sharples of Toronto Royal Canadian, who also won four Ontario and two Canadian seniors crowns. . . . Mark Kean of Huron Park won the A side of the Gore Mutual schoolboy regionals at Wallaceburg Sydenham and will play in the provincial championship starting Thursday at Sutton. Sarah Miller of South Huron won the A side of the schoolgirl regionals, also at Sydenham, to advance to Sutton.

2006 TOURNAMENT OF HEARTS

Tickets

What's available: Week-long packages until the fall.

Prices: $275 for upper-bowl side seats, $300 for lower-bowl side seats and upper-bowl end seats, $325 for lower-bowl end seats. Packages include free admission to Heartstop Lounge at the convention centre.

How to get them: Call 488-1012 or 1-866-488-1012, or online at www.johnlabattcentre.com or in person at the JLC box office.

Volunteers

Number needed: Around 600

To enlist: Starting March 7, pick up forms at the Ilderton, London, St. Thomas and Highland clubs or at Roy Inch & Sons locations in London and St. Thomas, or online at www.hearts2006.curling.ca.


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