Curling rocked by CBC/Grand Slam debacle

GEORGE KARRYS, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:59 PM ET

Trivia: who remembers the televised curling debacle of 2005-06?

Sure, you do. The major events had been on The Sports Network (round robin and early playoffs) and then CBC (championship finals) for what seemed like forever, when suddenly CBC had grabbed an exclusive broadcast contract with the Canadian Curling Association, shutting TSN out.

Within months, Canadians were screaming bloody murder: they missed TSN terribly but their prime fury was directed at CBC for off-loading coverage onto their obscure Country Canada channel (now called Bold), which no one could find nor wanted to pay for. The sheer fury of the curling fan onslaught left other sports surprised before they averted their eyes in embarrassment.

In no time at all, the Canadian Curling Association had torn up the deal, hauled TSN back into the picture and licked its wounds in public. Within another year, it was CBC Sports who were shut out, and TSN began its era of “Season of Champions” exclusivity.

Believe it or not, another seismic TV scandal rocked the curling world late last week when CBC Sports terminated its agreement to broadcast the Capital One Grand Slam of Curling, citing non-payment of fees from property owner iSport Media and Management.

With the third of four Slam events set to begin in less than a week — play actually begins in Dawson Creek, B.C. on Wednesday night — this abrupt departure threw the curling scene into an uproar. The uproar quickly went public when at least one of the top eight skips in men’s curling reacted to the e-mailed news by leaking the information to Calgary Herald curling writer Al Cameron. Boom.

What followed was a two-day flurry of hysteria. Cameron posted the news online at midnight eastern time, and before 11:00 a.m. the next day Sportsnet was a) confirmed to be taking over the broadcasts, b) increasing the hours of coverage for each event from six to 30 and c) preparing the final touches on long-term agreement.

“Sportsnet to broadcast Grand Slam” blared the Edmonton Journal. “Adjust your cable package curling fans! Sportsnet is in!” tweeted Winnipeg’s Team Mike McEwen, winners of three of the past five Grand Slams.

The reality? Nothing of the sort has happened. Anonymous sources that were quoted ad nauseum online — on Twitter and via blogposts — mysteriously disappeared when it came time to file a print story in the Globe and Mail. Out in Calgary, Cameron hustled to get quotes from iSport boss Kevin Albrecht, who pointed to a disagreement with CBC over broadcast content. We also heard from Jeffrey Orridge of CBC Sports, curling stars like Kevin Koe, the Sportsnet communications department and even World Curling Players’ Association president Pierre Charette, who reportedly hustled home from a Caribbean vacation when the news broke … but the waters remain murky.

The only fact known, in fact, is that in this 50th anniversary year, the Mother Corp. will not have any curling coverage on the air. That hasn’t happened since at least 1962, and possibly 1961 (Famed CBC sports broadcaster Don Wittman, who died in 2008, specifically remembered attending the 1961 Brier for the Corp.).

Curling, already synonymous with the Dominion of Canada, has provided a cornerstone of cultural content in public broadcasting for 50 years … well, almost 50 years. And the way it all came crashing down — with arguments over money — is a damned shame.

BROOM BITS

Thomas Scoffin of Whitehorse led a handpicked team to a bronze medal in mixed curling at the inaugural Youth Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria last week. Scoffin and teammates Corryn Brown of Kamloops, B.C., Derek Oryniak of Winnipeg, and Emily Gray of O’Leary, P.E.I., beat out Sweden’s Rasmus Wrana by a 6-4 count to grab a podium berth, shortly after losing an 8-2 semifinal to Italy earlier in the day. Switzerland took the gold with a 6-4 win over the Italians in the final.

Competing on a team of selected athletes wasn’t the only new wrinkle in Innsbruck. Scoffin then teamed with a New Zealand curler in Mixed Doubles competition, which saw all the competitors partner up with athletes from other nations. The team lineups were decided based on the final standings of the Mixed discipline.

Scoffin and Co., didn’t make it to the podium, where Switzerland’s Michael Brunner made it double-gold along with teammate Nicole Muskatewitz of Germany. The pair overwhelmed a Korean-Norwegian combination by a score of 13-2, while a Russia-United States pairing took the bronze with a win over Japan-Korea … All this Grand Slam TV hoo-hah has overshadowed women’s provincial championships. Two have been decided so far — Heather Strong is back for Newfoundland and Labrador and Kim Dolan won her first P.E.I women’s title since 1999 — and all remaining shootouts will be decided this weekend. The national is slated for Red Deer, Alta., in late February with Saskatchewan’s Amber Holland returning as Team Canada … The website for the Dawson Creek Slam this week and weekend is, FYI, grandslamofcurling.com … Curling tweets of the week go to The Curling News (@curling), which offered this at the height of the CBC Slam frenzy: “According to sources, sources are sourcing whatever sources they can to keep curling media in a lather” … and to curling fan @brycejmcewen, who posted this gem: “Curling ratings are great. Ridiculous that iSport or anybody else would have to pay a network to be on TV.” Amen, brother.

Twitter: @curling

Email: gk@thecurlingnews.com

Web: curlinguru.com


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