Fans blow fuse as CBC pulls the plug

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

ST. JOHN'S -- When the CBC pulled the plug on its broadcast of an in-progress Scott Tournament of Hearts match Saturday night between Saskatchewan and Quebec, the only thing missing was Dave Hodge tossing a pencil in frustration.

It seemed to be such a bad thing to do on the first day of a new era in the broadcasting of the Canadian Curling Association's championship events.

Curling fans are passionate about their game and were already grumbling about last summer's pact between the CCA and the CBC that took the title tournaments such as the Scott and the Brier from TSN.

PETITIONS PRODUCED

Petitions were organized and fans were roarin' mad about being denied TSN's extensive coverage featuring Vic Rauter, Ray Turnbull and Linda Moore.

They weren't too pleased about the CBC's plans to carry evening draws during the round-robin on digital station Country Canada, a channel that excludes many Canadians without digital cable or satellite TV.

And they objected to the absence of morning draws on the CBC schedule, although TSN was also leaning toward not airing the morning games due to low viewership numbers.

Ottawa curler Terry Rathwell delivered a 719-page petition with the opinions of 4,841 devotees to the CCA's offices in Orleans last August.

So it's no surprise that in-boxes and switchboards at the CCA, the CBC and even Scott Paper are being inundated with complaints after the broadcaster turned out the lights on the Quebec vs. Saskatchewan game before it had ended.

The CBC aired that game on Country Canada and decided to stop coverage because CRTC regulations limits the broadcaster to 121/2 hours of sports programming each week on that station.

But the beefs started to fly soon after the CBC pulled the switch.

Robin Wilson of Scott Paper even received calls on her cellphone from irate fans. She received close to 100 e-mail messages yesterday -- some of them downright nasty -- from miffed fans, some of whom are calling for a boycott of curling sponsors such as Scott and Tim Horton's.

But it's not Scott Paper's fault or any sponsor's that the CCA went for the cash and brought the CBC on board as its full-time curling broadcaster, and fans should remember that.

It's a decision the CCA made, and it's one it's going to have to live with.

Even now, the CBC is looking at ways to quell the tide of discontent from curling fans who aren't too pleased that they're having trouble finding their sport on television.

CONFUSION

Adding to the confusion was a decision last week to show last night's and last Sunday's evening draws on The Score, which is available on regular cable TV.

Warren Hansen, the CCA's media point man, called the situation a backlash.

Christos Nikitopoulos, the CBC's senior manager of programming operations, arrived in St. John's last night and said the network will not break away from coverage of any draw that isn't completed.

He also said the network is trying to inform viewers when and on what channels curling is available.

"Any calls we get from people who aren't happy are too many," he said.

MIXED RESULTS

Preliminary estimates on the viewership numbers report that 490,000 watched Sunday afternoon's Scott draw and 450,000 saw Saturday's games on the CBC, which are better numbers than the ones TSN produced during the first two afternoon draws of last year's Tournament of Hearts --300,000 on the Saturday and 250,000 on the Sunday.

Keep in mind that the CBC is available without cable.

On Sunday night in prime time, however, the preliminary number was 166,000 tuned into The Score, a decrease of 40% from the number of fans who watched last year's Sunday evening draw on TSN.

So now it's time for action, and the CCA and the CBC need to do something quickly, like making more draws available on the main network, before fans start tuning out.

And fans need to relax a bit and allow the CBC to work out the kinks in its curling schedule.

As for the on-air product, CBC does a fine job. Don Wittman, Joan McCusker and Mike Harris call the game well.

It will take some time for fans to get accustomed to their style, but over time they'll be as satisfied with the CBC crew as they were with Vic, Linda and Ray.


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