Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Grand Slam gets life

According to Al Cameron in the Herald, Rogers Sportsnet will announce it’s getting back into the curling business.

There’s a presser called for 11 a.m. Thursday at which the sports broadcaster is expected to say it’s taking over the Grand Slam events.

George Karrys at The Curling News, says CBC is also involved to some extent.

One source told me that the plan will call for Sportsnet to air round-robin games with CBC stepping in to do the finals, much as in the old days of the Brier where TSN did the round robin and CBC the playoffs.

The news comes after a summer of negotiations between iSport and its head, Kevin Albrecht, and Sportsnet. It’s believed the WCT Players Association and Capital One, the series’ major sponsor, were also involved.

Multiple sources told me that Albrecht turned down at least one offer from Sportsnet earlier in the summer and was playing hardball with the property. Of course it’s rumoured that Albrecht’s firm was in financial distress stemming from a poorly attended music festival his company put on. CBC pulled the plug on the Grand Slam broadcasts last year after it said its bills weren’t being paid. Albrecht disputed those claims from CBC.

ISport did put the final Grand Slam event in Summerside, PEI on the air, using a makeshift crew and airing on Global TV. As well, while prize cheques were slow to arrive, all the players were paid.

If indeed this is the end of Albrecht’s association with curling, it will be after a long history of helping the players. When Albrecht was with IMG, he organized a large group of curlers into a de facto assocaition, which led to the famous boycott of the Brier. It was that move that created the Grand Slam (which was, coincidentally, aired on Sportsnet) as well as forcing the hand of the Canadian Curling Association to acquiesce to at least some player demands. But it’s clear he’s lost his way with those same players.

With Rogers taking over the Grand Slam, the curlers will get some stability and a company that can cross-promote it with other properties such as its radio network, website and Sportsnet magazine.

And with former TSN curling producers Keith Pelley and Scott Moore holding the two most senior positions in the media side of Rogers, it’s no surprise that curling joins the fold on Sportsnet. Whether it will be able to draw significant audiences is the next question to be asked. CBC curling audiences for the Grand Slam were good but as a major broadcaster, it could air a tiddlywinks championship and get a significant audience.

For the curlers, it’s a big relief. As one world-class player told me earlier this year, after all the work to create and establish the Grand Slam, to suddenly lose it would be a massive step backwards. That’s not to mention, as Cameron points out, the implications it would have on the Olympic Trial playdown process.

We’ll know more on Friday at 11. 

No comments: