Curling casts all its stones with TSN

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

The curling world just keeps on turning in wild and wacky ways.

Two years after punting TSN right out of its TV picture -- a decision that was reversed after one acrimonious season -- the Canadian Curling Association couldn't be more in love with the network.

Witness the new six-year television deal the CCA announced yesterday, which gives TSN exclusive rights to all Season of Champions events (most notably the Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts) -- including the semi-finals and finals.

Yes, folks, CBC is out as a curling broadcaster when its current contract expires in 2008. Then it's TSN's ball, er, rock to carry on its own right through to 2014.

"This was more of a strategic decision to position ourselves as a cornerstone of TSN's programming going forward to 2010 and beyond," Dave Parkes, the CCA's CEO, said in announcing the deal.

Excuse me while I give my head a shake for a moment.

Let's see. In 2004, the CCA embraced a four-year offer it said at the time would give the sport wider reach through more games shown on CBC, plus additional matches on digital CBC Country Canada. Once the uproar from curling fans over that arrangement forced both sides to take a major step back -- and welcome TSN back into the fold -- now we get a 180-degree twist in the other direction.

So what gives here?

Quite frankly, the CCA was blown away by an aggressive, forward thinking multi-media plan by TSN that will pull curling fully into the 21st century. It listened to a proposal that included use of wireless, broadband Internet and even podcast platforms, and couldn't say no.

"We can grow the sport and perhaps even reach a younger demographic (with this plan)," said TSN president Phil King. "Maybe you'll even be able to follow games on your cellphone someday.

"Now you'll be able to watch the Brier on your computer if you're at your condo in Florida."

Curling fans will also be happy to know that morning draw coverage is back starting in 2008-09. So are Vic, Linda and Ray, every stone along the way.

No wonder Vic Rauter had such a big grin on his face yesterday. So much so that you might have thought him an England fan.

"Vic ran down in between (World Cup) soccer games," said King. "He had a huge smile on his face when we made the announcement."

King also points out that the kind of audiences TSN now draws -- it pulls in three million for world junior hockey finals, and had an afternoon Brazil-Croatia World Cup soccer game Tuesday peak at more than a million -- show the CCA won't lose out much that way by dropping the CBC, which has a wider audience reach.

Said Parkes: "We don't anticipate any (audience) decrease at all ... we may see some increases."

But this deal is clearly about the future. For TSN, it means gaining complete control over a key Winter Olympics sport leading up to the Vancouver 2010 Games -- and beyond. The network also recently announced a Hockey Canada deal that essentially does the same thing.

NEW CFL VIEW: Widescreen broadcasts, virtual on-screen field goal graphics, a cool new theme song by Linkin Park -- yes, this really is the CFL on CBC we're talking about. "Our show has been really solid editorially," said Trevor Pilling, CBC's CFL executive producer. "Now we want to make sure viewers know we're a lot of fun to watch, too." Former Renegades GM Eric Tillman joins the studio panel on a full-time basis (Darren Flutie is being shifted to game duty), ex-Winnipeg QB Khari Jones has been added as a periodic sideline analyst, and outspoken former CFL LB Daved Benefield will have a new segment called Sounding Off. A minimum of 11 games, including the Grey Cup, will air in high-definition. All CBC games are being shot in widescreen format ... TSN, meanwhile, is introducing a new state-of-the-art, HD-ready broadcast studio for its CFL Live shows. It will broadcast 30 of its 50 games in HD this season.

THE LIFE OF BRIAN: One week after being unceremoniously dumped by the CBC, Brian Williams makes his debut on the CFL sidelines for TSN. He'll be an on-site host for tonight's Winnipeg-Montreal game, a duty he'll perform throughout the season ... Elliotte Friedman on replacing Williams as the CBC's CFL host: "He's a legend, no question," he told Canadian Press. "I can't be him. I'm a different guy. We have different styles. If I try to do what Brian does, it will be a disaster. I'll do what I do."


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