The numbers are in and curling finished lucky 13th among TSN sports events in 2011 … not spectacular, but not bad.
The peak show was the gold medal match at the men’s worlds in Regina, at which Canada’s Jeff Stoughton defeated Scotland’s Tom Brewster. The 1.32 million viewers ranked it as the 13th most-watched event on TSN in 2011, well behind the usual slate of NHL playoff and world junior hockey games and Grey Cup football.
Even the “Roast of Charlie Sheen” on The Comedy Network scored higher than curling, at 1.78 million, which is either horrifying or awesome, depending on your point of view.
Other TSN 2011 curling audiences included the Brier final (1.31 million), the women’s STOH final (1.11 million) and one of the Brier playoff games at 993,000 viewers.
Pretty good for curling numbers — numbers that many other sports would kill for. Sure, the Brier final was down a bit from 2010 (1.56 million) and the women’s final saw a bigger drop (from 1.72 million) but those were pre- and post-Olympic frenzy figures, and just might never be seen again.
Another area in which curling excels is sponsorship support. At a time when the post-Vancouver 2010 corporate sag is in full effect, with companies abandoning sports including figure skating and bobsleigh/skeleton, curling sponsorships are actually growing.
Many partners have been around for decades — think Kruger (aka Scott Paper) and Ford — and others have been upsold from the supplier level to big-time event title status (think Tim Hortons).
Recent trends have seen companies that started out as team sponsors — somewhat thin on budget and heavy on community charm — step up and become national partners with enormous new budget outlays, such as M&M Meat Shops, The Dominion (insurance, not the grocer) and World Financial Group.
There was a time, not too long ago, that the Canadian Curling Association saw little or no potential in talking with team curling sponsors. Not anymore.
Other partners started their curling relationship with rival competitions and then joined the official CCA partner stable — like Capital One.
Recently, the national body scored Bell as their new telco partner, which has pretty much sold out their “Season of Champions” inventory. All that’s left is to re-jig said inventory to try and rebuild past TV properties — like the Mixed — or create new ones, perhaps for CIS University play and/or Mixed Doubles, which desperately needs a national championship.
There’s more to TV curling than the Season of Champions, of course — just as there is more to the sport itself than the high-performance athletes who entertain us on the box.
CBC still has the Grand Slam circuit, sponsored by the aforementioned Capital One, and while TV numbers were decent in the spring at about 500,000 on average, the numbers from this past fourth quarter have been dismal. Clearly, something needs a shake-up.
The players have tried to do their part, bringing in the five-rock rule for their December show in Kingston. But the shows themselves — and their promotion — might need a reboot, and that’s something that CBC and event partner iSport need to consider.
In addition, cable still loves the Roaring Game. Occasional World Curling Tour events pop up on regional TV coverage, and the men’s (and sometimes women’s) provincial championships broadcast hours of competition in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (via Shaw) and Ontario and New Brunswick (Rogers). Watch for those in January and February.
BEST OF 2011
Best Show, hands down, goes to last February’s late-week round-robin women’s match between Team Canada’s Jennifer Jones and Manitoba’s Cathy Overton-Clapham. The epic grudge match between world champion ex-teammates was analyzed and promoted far in advance and despite its relatively meaningless nature — Jones had a playoff berth wrapped up with Manitoba playing for pride — the spectacle actually delivered. With the fans going bonkers, Cathy O put on a clinic, won the game and captured even more hearts than she had grabbed in the preceding months. All the while, non-curling fans in prairie sports bars were buzzing. Seriously … the Spectator Snafu of the Year is a tie between the London Flag Flap and the Cranbrook Cowbell Cataclysm. At the 2011 Brier, octogenarian Ontario fan Jack Cox was prevented by overzealous arena staff from running with his flag — safety issues, you see. Meanwhile, the cowbell debacle from a few weeks ago was similar — due to overzealous arena enforcers — but that one turned into an internal communications failure for the CCA … Best Result for Subpar Performance goes to Kevin Martin for his entire 2010-11 season. While running himself into the ground with post-Olympic corporate appearances, the Old Bear struggled with his mechanics and still managed to win two Grand Slams (including the Players’ Championship), the TSN Curling Skins Game and a number of games he, er, shouldn’t have won. In fact, the only obviously poor result came at the Brier — called early by yours truly — where his Edmonton crew were eliminated in the 3 vs 4 playoff game. Martin’s bad day at the office is something every other curler can only dream of … the Disappearing Act Award goes to the plethora of great thirds who retired from the sport this past summer, some of them quite abruptly. Richard Hart, Blake MacDonald and Mark Nichols all said goodbye to high-performance competition despite Olympic and/or world championship pedigrees, and some of them might never return … Quote of the Year goes to Stoughton third Jon Mead after losing a Slam final to Martin: “I don’t know how anyone can win a Grand Slam throwing it that bad.”