CBC just doesn't get it

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

The warning signs first appeared eight months ago, and they weren't exactly subtle.

How could network, CCA brush off curling fans' passion?

Yet here we were, just days into the Scott Tournament of Hearts in St. John's, and the CBC found itself caught in a firestorm over television coverage of the national women's championships.

Angry viewers from coast to coast deluged the network, the Canadian Curling Association, main sponsor Scott Paper -- anyone they felt had an ear worth bending -- with thousands of e-mails and phone calls.

It was simply astonishing.

Yet, in the midst of it all, the main parties involved declared shock at the level of the uproar. That they couldn't imagine it would get this bad.

To which we ask: You're kidding, right?

Surely, CBC, you couldn't have underestimated the passion this country has for curling that badly.

There's no possible way, is there, CCA, that you don't listen closely to the curlers and curling fans across this land of ours -- the people, it should be noted, to whom you owe your existence.

Many things are mind-boggling about the furore that has raged on now for the better part of a week. But nothing staggers this observer more than this thought -- these two actually believed this would work.

They assumed curling fans would, without complaint, fork over money to buy or rent a digital box (and yes, that's part of the cost), so they could order a channel -- CBC Country Canada -- few had even heard of until now.

And that it was okay for the CBC, the country's most widely viewed channel, to only broadcast one draw a day live, all the while figuring viewers would easily navigate their way between Country Canada and The Score in the evening.

News flash, folks. Viewers shouldn't have to work that hard. It wasn't that way for the past two decades, when curling fans got into a simple, comfortable routine: Follow the round-robin draws (all of them) through the week on TSN, then flip over to the CBC for the weekend finals.

But no, that wasn't good enough for the CCA. It saw a bigger chunk of cash offered by the CBC last July, and unceremoniously dumped TSN, despite all it did for 20 years to grow the sport.

And how, while we're at it, could nobody know, when this new arrangement was proposed, that Country Canada's licence only allows it to air 12.6 hours of sports per week? That little fact has handcuffed the efforts of curling producer Don Peppin, who took heat for cutting off coverage Saturday night on Country Canada before a Saskatchewan-Quebec match finished (and we all know you don't mess with a Prairie curling fan).

SOLID PRODUCTION

The sad part is, all of this is overshadowing the fine job Don Wittman, analysts Joan McCusker and Mike Harris, and the CBC production crew are doing in St. John's.

Said six-time Canadian champ Colleen Jones: "There would be no debate about this if (the draws) were on CBC in the afternoon and in prime time. People would love the coverage."

Instead, they're fuming. And there's more to come -- it appears nothing will change for the Tim Horton's Brier, when only the 11:30 a.m. draw will air on CBC here during the week.

Oh, it's a mess all right. And one that needs cleaning up before the first rock is thrown in Edmonton.

If the CBC and CCA care about curling fans, that is.


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