Continental conundrum

CON GRIWKOWSKY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:01 AM ET

CAMROSE -- Players, fans and Canadian television audiences love this event.

Still, there's a 70% chance the world's curling elite have done the Continental for the last time after its six-year run concludes on Sunday.

That's the odds World Curling Federation president Les Harrison of Moncton puts on resurrecting the event after it takes a year off for the Olympic Trials.

The event has been underwritten by both the World Curling Federation and the Canadian Curling Association, mostly from shares of Olympics television revenue.

"A long time ago, we came up with an ultimatum that if we did not come up with a title sponsor by the end of February or March of this year, it's kind of tough to carry it on," said Harrison.

"It's costing both of our organizations a considerable amount of money to make this thing go."

Unless a title sponsor is willing to ante up a good chunk of change, this weekend will be as good as it gets.

"It's a difficult one because of television issues," said Harrison. "It's the timing of the event. It's very difficult for the Europeans to come here. We recognize the fans are tied up with Christmas issues at this time of the year. It's tough to get people to come to their seats and it's also difficult to get sponsorships."

The knockout punch may be the world economic situation. The sports world has been sideswiped by the downturn and an innovative event like this is no exception.

DOWNTURN

"Now that we've had this terrible economic downturn, it makes it extremely difficult to try to get the kind of sponsorship needed to keep this thing going," said Harrison.

This event is patterned after golf's Ryder Cup, which also had been ignored by the corporate community before it finally took off.

"We love it," said Harrison. "We think it's been a phenomenal event but we have to look at the track record of the Ryder Cup. Most of us old guys remember when the Ryder Cup started; it was a very difficult sell in the first few years. They really sunk a lot of money into it before it paid off."

Given the economic circumstances, the Continental Cup may not be able to gut it out before it makes a breakthrough in Europe.

"Can we afford to do that?" said Harrison. "The World Curling Federation has a new marketing agent (Infront Sports and Media based in Switzerland). This company has been working with us beyond 2010.

"Since 1998 when we got into the Olympic Games and the funding we've received, we've been able to market the sport," said Harrison.

MILLIONS

The WCF has spent millions of Olympic dollars annually since 1998 underwriting television coverage of the Europeans and the recently split men's and women's worlds.

That's helped increase membership from 25 to 44 countries.

"We're spreading the gospel, but how do you find the sponsorship?" said Harrison.

"It's a chicken and egg scenario. You have to give them a product and when you give them a product, you have to sell it to your sponsors. That's where we're running into difficulty."

The best hope Harrison can offer for the Continental Cup is beyond 2010, if a Swiss marketing agency can ride the wave of an improving economy and possibly tap the European market.

"We don't really have any hot irons in the fire of some good sponsor taking a hold of this thing and keeping it going for us," Harrison admitted.

"It's been in Canada and it's been on television in Canada, but we're not getting it out to the rest of the world.

"For us to do that, it would cost us another quarter-milion-plus of our money. It's just a dollars and cents thing. Can we make it go or not?"

For now, it seems the answer is not.


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