Q. Where are the fans?

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

DRAYTON VALLEY -- A couple hundred kilometres away from the curling capital of the world, the ultimate provincial championship is being held here with nobody in the stands.

"Something is wrong here," said Randy Ferbey. "Real wrong."

The opening ceremonies were held here Wednesday night and you could have shot a cannon through the place and not hit anyone.

Yesterday the Ferbey Four were hit with a brilliant 20-foot angle raise triple take-out circus shot to give up four against Leon Moch and about 150 people in a gorgeous 1,200 seat arena saw it. Even fewer people watched 12th seeded Jeff Ginter's upset win over the No. 1 seeded Ferbey team to open the event.

"This should be the showcase provincial in Canada," said the six-time Brier winner and four time world champion.

"What showcase? This is not a showcase."

BOOMING ECONOMY

The curlers are now coming to the conclusion the format they're using for the third straight year is seriously flawed.

If you look deeper than the surface, you'll discover it's not because Drayton Valley is a horsebleep town. A big part of what's wrong is that curling in Alberta is too good for its own good. And the particular problem here is that the booming Alberta economy is arguably the biggest thing wrong with this event.

The first thing you need to know here is just how strong an event this is.

You can make a case it features a higher level of curling than will be at this year's Ford Worlds which have already sold 125,823 tickets in Edmonton.

You may know that five of the top 13 teams in the country are in this. But it goes beyond that. The strength of field multiplier for men's playdowns involves an obviously complicated system.

Without explaining it, Alberta's total is 240, Manitoba 170 and Saskatchewan 125. It drops all the way down to PEI with four and Northern Ontario and the Territories with zero.

This is an event which should be playing sizable junior hockey arenas in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer and Grand Prairie and selling out.

But that's a non-starter.

Because Edmonton and Calgary fill NHL arenas for the Briers, those centres are now in the rotation for women's world championships (Grand Prairie last year), Scotties Tournament of Hearts (Red Deer recently and Lethbridge this year) and Continental and Canada Cups (Medicine Hat).

"We're victims of our own success," said Alberta Curling Federation boss Jim Pringle.

So it's small 800-1,200 seat arenas in Hinton, Innisfail and Drayton Valley (and a curling club in Edmonton last year) with Spruce Grove, Wainwright and Olds slated to play host to the next three Kia Cups.

Hinton and Innisfail filled the rinks and the towns totally embraced the event. That's not happening here. Yet.

They've allegedly bought the all-event tickets at $150 each but they're all out in the oil patch working until the weekend. And people from outside here can't get hotel rooms until the weekend because oilpatch workers are filling them all.

Three years ago the Kia Cup went from an eight-team round-robin to a 12-team tournament with two pools of six.

Kevin Martin and Randy Ferbey are ranked 1-2 in the world and are in different pools.

"I talked to a fan here who asked me when we play each other," said Ferbey. "I said 'We might not.' He said 'That's not right.' And it's not."

Martin says it's broken and has to be fixed.

BIG PROBLEMS

"The structure is wrong,'' said Martin, who advocates 16 teams playing eight-end games instead of 12 playing 10-end games.

That, he says, would help fix another problem, the dramatic drop in teams entering the playdowns because they don't think they have a chance anymore. "The game is getting separated," he said.

He feels 16 teams in an event on arena ice would give more teams more reason to enter. Of course, it would be nice if there was somebody to watch them.

Martin advocates eight-end games. "The sweepers are so strong, they're ripping the pebble right off it by the 10th end."

Ferbey just shakes his head.

"I don't know what all the answers are, but something is off. Way off."


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