Fight over profits leaves Canadian curling in a divided house

By Peter James

Hurry! Hurry hard! Hurry! That sound is not just a skip trying to coax his stone closer to the button.

It’s actually curling fans across the country calling for the World Curling Players Association (WCPA) and the Canadian Curling Association (CCA) to finalize an agreement in a fight that is bad for business and, more importantly, fans.

The Brier, Canada’s national curling championship, has already been tainted by one WCPA boycott last year. Qualifications for this year’s tournament, to be held next month in Halifax, are under way with the boycott still in place, meaning fans will be stuck watching a second class field.

The WCPA, which represents 18 of the top curling rinks in Canada, had decided to boycott the CCA organized Brier in a fight over money and sponsorships.

Many top curlers felt the Brier was a cash cow for the CCA, and they wanted their share of the profits. When the CCA wouldn’t budge on prize money and sponsorship regulations, the curlers decided to form their own league, the Grand Slam of Curling.

The split in Canada’s curling fraternity is not only bad for business (now there are two groups trying to chase after the same group of corporate sponsors), it also hurts the fans.

For example, this year Alberta’s Kevin Martin has dominated the Grand Slam, while fellow Albertan and two-time defending Brier champion Randy Ferby has dominated CCA events. Under the current system, these two powerhouses, who some say head up the two best teams in the world, don’t get to square off this season.

The boycott has taken a lot of the luster away from the Brier. With the likes of curling giants Martin, Wayne Middaugh and Jeff Stoughton all choosing to stay home, the fans of this year’s Brier are the real losers. While attendance and ratings remained strong last year despite the boycott, any long-term loss of talent will certainly hurt the Brier.

However, there is still hope. The CCA and the WCPA have been talking, and it seems there might be a resolution around the corner. Yet after two years of negotiations, there is still no agreement, and things are only getting worse for the fans.

Professional curling in Canada is still in its infancy. The World Curling Tour has been around since 1992, but the big money events like the Grand Slam are only two years old. Curling can’t compete with the major professional sports in terms of revenue or salaries. Heck, even Canada’s best curlers need a day job to earn a living.

Kevin Martin, the tour’s top money earner has made $134,875 with one event left. That money has to be split four ways, and travel and other expenses must be accounted for.

Having major events going head-to-head, as has happened this year, typically leads to split audiences, lower ratings and reduced advertising revenue. Most curling events don’t have a huge profit margin, so any lost revenue could render some events unviable.

The WCPA needs to get its act together and see that boycotting the Brier is hurting fans and the sustainability of the game. Yes, curlers deserve their fair share of revenues from events like the Brier, but they should work with the CCA in order to get it.