Brier TV ratings juggernaut

PATRICK MALONEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:02 PM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- Is London ready for its close-up?

It better be.

Because the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier, perhaps somewhat shockingly to the non-fan, is in fact a TV ratings juggernaut that will expose the host city to millions of viewers this week.

"Every time they show a draw, it's a commercial for London," said Cheryl Finn, Tourism London's director of sports tourism.

"You can't put a dollar figure on that. You can't buy TV time like that."

Big-league curling may sound like an oxymoron for the uninitiated but the numbers don't lie.

National sports broadcaster TSN is airing 75 hours of coverage from the John Labatt Centre this week and the early ratings are promising: Saturday's games peaked at an average audience of 865,000 and Sunday's high wasn't far off.

By comparison, last Friday night's New York Rangers-Ottawa Senators game drew 440,000 viewers

For the Brier final, TSN expects to average 1.5 million. If it ends up being Kevin Martin vs. Glenn Howard, the audience could push two million.

A revamped TV ratings system, put in place about two years ago, has bumped up viewership numbers for most shows and curling is no exception.

The recent Tournament of Hearts broke its own ratings record last month, TSN officials say.

For local Brier boosters, the TV exposure is promoted as just one of the benefits.

There's also the visitors it draws to London. Non-residents bought 60% of the more than 100,000 tickets sold, Finn says.

The direct economic impact for the city is pegged at $8 million. London taxpayers put about $90,000 toward operating costs.

And a successful Brier only makes the city's bids for future big-ticket events that much stronger, Finn says.

"It makes us a stronger player," she said. "Sports-event hosting is becoming extremely competitive. More and more communities are understanding the value.

"London is a major player in the game and we want to stay that way."

The city's biggest sporting success was the 2005 Memorial Cup which, falling during the NHL lockout and featuring a young Sidney Crosby, was a huge windfall.

The Brier may not equal that event, but neither, Finn predicts, will measure up to the World Figure Skating Championship that's bringing athletes from 60 countries here in 2013.

"That will blow them out of the water," she said.


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