Sunday, January 22, 2012

Reflecting on the Slam and TV

After a few days of reflection and a few chats with people around the curling community, it’s difficult to figure out just where the whole Grand Slam of Curling-TV debate sits. There are wildly different sides to the story depending on whom you talk to.

The CBC says it hasn’t been paid and has gone as far as it can go to keep the Slam on the air. Any live TV event is no small endeavour. There is a mobile truck to drive to the site, a massive setup of cables and cameras, a crew to bring out, house and feed, satellite concerns not to mention Mike, Joan and Bruce’s expense accounts. On the cheap end, I’d say it would probably run at least a couple of hundred thousand bucks. No wonder the CBC wanted to cut its losses before Dawson Creek.

On the other side, there’s iSport, which has been the brains behind the Grand Slam for some time. Kevin Albrecht, who is really the guy who managed to organize the curlers and show them they had some power, leading them to the infamous boycott and the creation of the Slam series, heads up iSport. The elite curlers in this land have a lot to thank him for.  It was Albrecht who signed Capital One as a title sponsor and Albrecht who managed to get the series on CBC in the first place. He says this dispute is not about failure to pay but how much to pay. He believes the quality of the broadcasts slipped and so why should the bill be the same for less?

Who to believe?

In any case, CBC is done and gone. After 50 years, it won’t be back in curling any time soon, so it seems. But the future is not necessarily as bright as was first believed either. While this story was unfolding last week, it was believed that a deal with Sportsnet was just around the corner. But as the day went on, it became clear that wasn’t the case.

Originally, Sportsnet was going to start showing round-robin games of the Slam beginning with Dawson Creek. But that wasn’t happening either. I’m only guessing but without the CBC’s truck and technical crew, Sportsnet wasn’t willing to foot the entire bill itself and said, no thanks. (In most cases in deals such as this, resources are shared: it’s the same crew, same cameras, and different hosts.) Perhaps it’s been scared off by the CBC’s stories of failure to get paid. Or maybe there wasn’t a rock-solid deal in place to begin with.

The curlers themselves obviously hadn’t been brought into the loop (they may have been since) because many were either calling or e-mailing me or when I called them, had no clue as to what was happening. The only thing they are assured of, apparently, is that the event is going to be held. At this point, I doubt there will be any network TV. It’s just too short a time period to pull something such as that together, unless the Sportnet negotiations are much further along than I realize.

Not all is dark however. As Kevin Martin told me this week, there is a lot to be positive about the Grand Slam. There is a rock-solid sponsor in place in Capital One, solid ratings for its broadcasts and cities and town lining up to play host to future events.

In the end, I am left with the idea that the Grand Slam is important. That came through loud and clear in every conversation I had, no matter what side of the issue the speaker was on.

“I just hope it continues,” Glenn Howard said. “It’s just too important for us to lose it. This is like one step forward and four steps back if it dies.”

Greg Stremlaw, the CEO of the CCA, made a similar comment to me, saying that he hoped things could be worked out because the Slam is vital to curling.

How true. The Grand Slam is necessary if curling is going to progress. Television is a big part of that plan. The next week or so is going to be very interesting.

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