Canada a Brier nation divided

PATRICK MALONEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:39 PM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- There are two solitudes in the curling world's Canada, a sporting divide that splits the country in half at the Manitoba-Ontario border.

It's a well-known reality by the Canadian Curling Association, the governing body that underwrites the annual Tim Hortons Brier and selects host cities nationwide.

West of that line, in the Prairie provinces, the sky is the limit for an event that can draw monster crowds and generate huge profits.

East of that border, in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada? The CCA knows there are no guarantees.

"That's just the way it is. It's just the structure of the country and the sport of curling," said Warren Hansen, the CCA's director of event operations.

"Any time we go east of Manitoba, it's going to present more of a challenge to us to (get) a positive bottom line."

This week's arrival in London of the Brier -- the CCA's flagship event -- marks its first foray into Southern Ontario since the troubled 2007 edition in Hamilton, which lost money.

The magic number here is $3 million -- that's approximately the Brier's operating budget and how much the CCA needs to generate to turn a profit.

London, Hansen says, will end up making some money, a virtual guarantee at this point.

But the attendance figures don't lie -- and the difference between a Prairie Brier and one anywhere east of Manitoba is dramatic.

The London Brier will end up selling between 115,000 and 120,000 tickets, a bit higher than the final numbers from Hamilton in 2007 (107,000) and Halifax last year (108,000).

Those numbers pale compared to the all-time attendance record, set in Edmonton in 2005, when 280,000 fans attended the Brier.

A typical Western Brier sells about 225,000 tickets, double what was sold this week.

But that's not to say Ontario organizers aren't up to snuff. Nor is it to suggest curling's unpopular outside the Prairies.

In fact, Ontario -- Canada's most populous province -- has the largest number of curlers. But the game's simply different in the lower-revenue east side, Hansen says.

"It's not Hamilton that's specifically any kind of problem," he said. "I more like to think of (it as the) Brier east of Manitoba.

"It's harder for us to sell the Brier in that area."

Hansen, having obviously mulled this issue for years, has a couple of theories: the economy out west, particularly in recent years, has been stronger than the east.

And the sport has a more "free-spirited attitude" out west at the amateur level, Hansen says, as opposed to a more structured club system in Ontario. That has in turn made it more popular in Western Canada.

The TV money -- the Brier draws strong ratings for TSN -- is there no matter where the event is held.

But there are obvious gate-related benefits to focusing on cities out west. The CCA, though, doesn't ignore any regions.

Over the past decade, five Briers have been in the east (three in Ontario, two in Halifax) and five in the Prairies.

The event returns to Saskatoon in 2012.

An eventual reprisal in London looks promising.

Hansen, a 1974 Brier champ, had nothing but praise for the local organizing committee, which is led by Peter Inch, and says the sound financial finish that's expected bodes well for a return.

"Without question, London is a place that can host any of our major events," Hansen said.

The CCA will give a portion of the Brier profits to the local curling clubs that contributed to running the event here, Hansen said.

Twitter.com/patatLFPress


Videos

Photos