Sunday, March 29, 2009

China wins . . . big whoop

Maybe I’m the lone guy in this, but I’m not one who thinks the world of curling changed when Bingyu Wang won yesterday’s (today’s) women’s world championship.
Yes, it’s marvelous that China grabbed its first global crown. And it’s stunning just how quickly this team became world-class. And yes, it’s great that the final was beamed into China on state-run television.
But wake me up when China has more than a few dozen curlers.
For some reason, I’m skeptical that this win will open the floodgates for the sport in Mao’s old home as some are suggesting. First, there’s still no curling culture in China so even if people were watching, so how many viewers had a clue as to what was going on?
Second, there are no facilities to speak of in China for folks to go and try things out. These gals live, train and curl in Canada. Why? Because we have the facilities. Nothing is going to change until they start building curling rinks in China and this win might help that a bit, but I don’t see six-sheeters springing up like daisies any time soon.
Here’s what I compare this to: remember when Myriam Bedard won a gold in the biathlon? There wasn’t a sudden rush of folks to that sport. Now it’s not a fair comparison because you don’t go out Friday night for some mixed biathlon. But to the Chinese, curling is nothing more than an obscure sport which they’ll never play nor have any desire to play.
My point is for curling to grow in any way, shape or form in China, there has to be more grass roots development. Maybe this will be the start of a long road towards that goal, but I have my doubts.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The World is Changing. . . or changed

I don’t know why I’m still surprised whenever Canada loses in a world curling championship, but I am.
So when Jennifer Jones lost to Anette Norberg yesterday (or is it today?), in the 3-vs-4 game, it was news. I’m still living in the last century when Canada always seemed to win the worlds. Of course, it didn’t back then either, but it sure seemed like it.
Some day soon, we in Canada are going to realize that when a team like China, comes to Canada, spends six days a week, eight hours a day training and practicing, they are eventually going to catch up and pass our top players who have to put in long hours at the salt mine before they get to go and throw rocks. Actually, they’ve already done the catching up part and the passing will come soon at this rate.
By the way, I know it’s great to take the world championships all over the place and expose curling to new folks, but when no one bothers to show up what’s the point? Looking at James Bisson’s piece from Korea makes you wonder who in the WCF got the smart idea that one of curling’s biggest events should be held in a country where the sport is virtually unknown.
I mean, is the point of all this so some folks can stand up at the next WCF meeting and say, “Aren’t we great? We held a world championship in Korea.” Then they can all hold hands and sing “We Are The World.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Capital One steps up again

Recession? What recession? Capital One steps up again and sponsors the world championships. This further legitimizes the Ontario Curling Report’s listing of Ian Cunningham has the most influential guy in curling. Capital One now has deals with the Grand Slam, CCA and WCF – they practically own the sport.

Zug, Switzerland, 25 March 2009 - Infront Sports & Media, exclusive media and marketing partner of the World Curling Federation (WCF) has secured Capital One Canada as an Official Partner of the WCF. As a result, the Canadian financial services company will be the Presenting Sponsor of the Mount Titlis World's Women Curling Championship in Korea in 2009 and the Title Sponsor of the Men’s and Women’s World Championships beginning in 2010.

Capital One Canada is committed to the sport of curling and is the Title Sponsor of the Capital One Grand Slam of Curling, which features eight annual men’s and women’s events. Capital One is also an Official Partner to the Canadian Curling Association.

A new direct relationship
Capital One will take on the Official Title Sponsor role beginning in 2010, including naming rights (“Capital One World (Women’s/Men’s) Curling Championship”). This will be supported by in-ice advertising, perimeter board and team uniform advertising, website integration and promotional spots on television.

As part of Infront’s new marketing programme, Capital One will be joined by three other long-term Official Partners of the WCF. The new programme connects partners directly with the WCF, who is curling’s governing body and an Olympic sport federation.

Ian Cunningham, Chief Marketing Officer of Capital One Canada said: “We have built our commitment to curling over the last few years with great success and this new partnership with the WCF gives us a platform to reach even more curling fans. Capital One is excited to be a presenting sponsor at this year’s world championship event and we look forward to taking it to the next level in 2010 as title sponsor.”

WCF President Les Harrison added: “Capital One is an ideal partner for the World Curling Federation. The company is active in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada – all important curling countries – and experienced in activating curling as a sponsorship platform. For us, it’s an ideal relationship.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

22 Minutes goes to the Brier

A very funny take on the Brier from the gang at 22 Minutes K-Mart has the best come-back.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Brier TV numbers

I was able to get some viewership numbers for the Brier final weekend:

The tiebreaker between Quebec and Manitoba: 271,000

The 1 vs. 2 game between Ontario and Alberta: 587,000 (1,000 more than the game between the same teams the night before)

The Brier final (drum roll please): 873,000

Interesting to note that the Scotties final outdrew the Brier final.

Brier final -- thanks for coming out

Now wasn’t that too bad?
After a great week filled with some amazing shotmaking, some absolutely engaging playoff games, the final turns into a blowout. Pretty much all said and done after the fourth, really. Sad, especially for TSN which was showing its first final.
I thought the TSN gang did a great job building up the game. The preview show was well done although what was with the guy doing the voice over on the Koe profile? He sounded very weird, as if he was some sort of villain in a Batman movie. I’m also not sure the five minutes on the Territories was warranted considering this was the Brier final.
The opening tease with Russ Howard doing the voice over was excellent, the build-up with Ray, Linda and Vic well done. I thought Cathy Gauthier’s comment that “This has been the best Brier ice in the history of curling” might have been a little over the top though. All in all, not a bad job for a first stab at the big game.

* I’ve never given much credibility to the shooting stats they put out at the Brier because I’ve seen the people who do the marking, but. . . it was interesting to note that Steve Gould was listed at 100 per cent for the game. But if you think that’s amazing, Kevin Martin was marked at 97 per cent. For a skip, that is just off the charts.

* Is it possible that Jeff Stoughton will be the last of the toe-sliders in the Brier? They are definitely a rarity these days and not that many youngsters feature that style.

* A noted difference between Kevin Martin and Glenn Howard: K-Mart is much better at bringing the heat.

* Can’t remember the last time I read a reference to “the bouquet from a glass of Montcharet 1978” in the lede of a curling story. But you can read it here. Oh and just a clarification: Marc Kennedy is actually the Alberta second.

* In my Globe column on Saturday that dealt with possible changes to the Brier format that would allow for separate entries for each of the Territories and add a Team Canada, one idea was to keep the number of teams at 12 and have a relegation system where the bottom two teams would drop down into a challenge against those not in. So if that was in place for this year, would there need to be a playoff at the bottom because three teams tied at 2-9 (N.S., PEI and Territories)?

* While you were watching the Brier, Canada was finishing second in both World junior finals. Scotland won the women’s crown and Denmark – Denmark, for crying out loud! – won the men’s.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Semi-final notes

* The difference between good ice and crappy ice was in full view last night. Take nothing away from the Manitoba team but it was sad to see the performance of the two squads compared to the previous two previous games. Can’t think back to a time when there were so many glaring misses, especially by the skips.
It wasn’t as much fun to watch, although in a weird kind of way I was intrigued to see how bad it could get. Seeing Jeff Stoughton miss three open shots for extra points was stunning. Seeing the Ontario team wreck on guard after guard was equally shocking. But at least the Manitoba skipper made his last rock to win – always like to see that.

* I have little knowledge of icemaking, so it’s unfair to criticize the work of the team, but how does a sheet go from almost perfect, all week and into the playoffs, to what we saw last night? I'm confused.

* Funny how Stoughton was almost overlooked coming into this Brier with so much focus on Howard and Martin. I think he was a little ticked at that and rightly so. He’s a world-class player with a world-class team. It’s not a surprise that he’s in the final, not by a long shot.

* As far as I know, Kevin Park is the only curler to ever visit the media’s hospitality suite (or as we call it, the hostility suite) at a Brier. It happened years ago late, late at night. K-Park, who was a different person back then, showed up as we were still carrying on, stunning most of us, since he was still in the running for the Tankard. But he knew that with the bars closed, we would probably still give him a beer. We did and joined right in with the rest of us. That was then and I’m exceptionally happy that Kevin’s been sober for three years now – he is truly one of the great people in this game and I'm glad he's on the right path.

* Great work by the TSN crew to dig up the stat that the only time Glenn Howard had lost three consecutive games in a Brier was in 1991 when he was playing for his brother. But they missed the next obvious link in that stat – that it was Martin who won the ’91 event.

* Speaking of TSN, they’ll do the Brier’s first pre-game show today before the big finale.

* I’m thinking that Alberta wins the game tonight, but I’m hoping that the ice allows these two talented teams to play their best.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Notes from another night of watching curling

So last night I had to go out for the evening so I PVRed the game. It was neat to be able to fast forward through all the commercials and even put the first few rocks of every end on fast speed. I wonder if TSN has thought about Brier Game-In-An-Hour like they do with the Raptors. Hard to imagine they boys could top Thursday night’s game, but Friday’s was another classic.

Speaking of commercials, what do the folks in charge of promoting future curling events do when they decide to make theirs? Call up the local high school TV production class? It’s embarrassing, really. Shots of old fat people in eight-year-old fleece sweaters sitting in their seats clapping makes me want to rush to the phone and order tickets for the Scotties/Brier/Worlds/Trials.

Gal who impressed me last night: Linda Moore. She was spot-on in her comments throughout the evening.

Here’s a link to this morning’s Globe column I wrote. It’s on a subject that’s extremely emotional for some, changes to the Brier. All you Northern Ontario folks be very afraid.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ont-Alta game draws big numbers

The game between Martin and Howard last night drew an audience of 586,000. At first, I was disappointed by that number but when you realize that Thursday is one of the biggest nights for television viewing (Survivor, CSI all draw more than one million and Grey's Anatomy, ER picked up more than two million) so that number is actually remarkable (so I'm told).

Notes from watching a classic game

Notes I made while watching the game, easily one of the most memorable in my years of watching rocks go up and down a sheet:

* Guy who really impressed me last night: Marc Kennedy, man that guy can curl.

* Why oh why do people wave when they see themselves in the shot on the Jumbotron? Don’t they realize they look like idiots?

* Toughest job in the building: Cathy Gauthier – she had to watch the other three games.

* I was very disappointed to hear Glenn say after the game that it was the most fun he'd ever had in a curling game. I can't believe he'd rank that game ahead of our famous 1982 Ontario University Curling matchup where one of his players was so drunk he literally fell sideways out of the hack before he threw.

* Think the players were excited? Did you see K-Mart jump up and point out that chance for two in the fifth? Glenn’s shot had barely stopped moving when he was up indicating the tap for two.

* I loved after Glenn’s try in six (where he was trying to come around the high guard for two or possibly three) that K-Mart gave him the broom wave indicating a hell of a shot, and then Glenn came down the ice and talked to Hebert. Do these guys love this game or what?

* Have to give credit to the icemaker, Jamie Bourassa, for giving these guys the fabulous conditions on which to perform. Would have been disappointing to have this one on crappy ice.

* Worst line of the night: Linda Moore describing a shot by Richard Hart -- “The electrical contractor is trying to plug it up.” Gag.

* I have never seen Hart play two bad games in a row. That’s why I’m expecting him to be almost flawless tonight.

* Guy who got almost as much TV time as Martin or Howard – Jim “Hollywood” Henderson and his camera.

* Best part about all of this is that we get to do it all again tonight!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Attention CCA: Seeding the Brier draw might work

After returning home from four days in Florida chasing Tiger Woods around Doral, I’m home and writing this during the early ends of the Ontario-Alberta matchup and it’s already proving to be a sensational contest. (yes, for the first time since 1990, I'm not in attendance at the Brier -- the facial ticks are really taking hold about now.)
And the fact that this game is happening on Thursday night in front of a packed Saddledome is huge. I’d like to think that the CCA, in its wisdom, recognized that the possibility of such a gigantic matchup was possible when it made the draw. If you’re a reader of this blog (or my other columns in print) you know that I’ve railed for years about how the CCA had to seed the draw. How, for marketing and ticket sales, it needed to set the draw after the provincial/territorial champions had been decided to provide for the maximum sales/viewership.
I’ve been told for years that it simply wasn’t possible to do it that late and was given all sorts of reasons why. I still don’t buy any of those, and I hope that the CCA now sees that it needs to schedule marquee matchups at premium times. Having Alberta play Ontario in the final game of the round robin, on a Thursday night, in prime time, is simply magic. I’m predicting a television audience in excess of one million (I will post the overnights tomorrow at some point). Heck, as I was taping some stuff with Mike Weir in Doral yesterday, some guy yelled over at us, asking who I thought would win tonight. Obviously, he was some transplanted Canuck, but even Weir wanted to know what was going on, not that he’d been following it, just what all the hype was about.
Time to sit back and watch this game, which has all the makings of a classic.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Hart on his sleeve

I’ve always liked Richard Hart as a straight-up guy. He’s about as honest as they come. The fact that he’s one of the best rock-tossers in the world is a bonus, but you won’t find many nicer folks on this planet than Richie. He’s always been one of my favourites to talk curling (or golf for that matter) with.
To those who don’t know him, this article by superscribe Al Cameron (my pick for the 2008 Scotty Harpers, by the way) might surprise, but not me. Hart talks about how Martin has received more attention this year, despite the Howard rink having a better season. He doesn’t disparage the Alberta team as much as ask why they don’t at the very least share top spot on the attention podium.
I’m really not sure that’s the case in Ontario, obviously, where the home-province squad is front and centre. But there is that sense that Martin is The Guy or The Team this year. That might have something to do with the fact that he’s the defending champion of the Brier and world championship. The average guy out there still doesn’t pay attention to the World Curling Tour results, unfortunately. That becomes obvious at this time of year when folks like me do media interviews. Many of the folks asking the questions haven’t got a clue what’s going on and they default to the world championship from a year earlier. “Who won? Oh, that guy must be the best then.”
In one interview on Friday, a questioner had no idea that all four players took turns throwing the rocks – that person thought two people did nothing but sweep. And this was someone from Alberta, the heart of curling country.
Anyway, I don’t blame Rich for feeling ripped off. His team has had a banner year and probably deserves to share the top billing. Which is all he was really saying in the first place.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Brier Preview

Here's my Brier preview story for Saturday's Globe.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Influence in Ontario

The latest edition of the Ontario Curling Report is out and in it is our first compilation of the most influential people in Ontario curling. I’m hoping this list will generate lots of discussion in clubs around the province.
I want folks to pick up the paper, but here are the top five.
Ian Cunningham
Scott Taylor
Glenn Howard
Greg Stremlaw
Gerry Geurts
I should point out that no members of the media were included. And our list is really about who has influence on Ontario curling, although some of the names have a national focus that ultimately affects curlers in this province.
It was an interesting exercise, to be sure, and there were some names on the list that I never would have thought of starting out.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Interviewing K-Mart

I had a good interview with Kevin Martin yesterday in preparation for my Brier preview for this Saturday’s Globe.
K-Mart was his usual self, full of good comments and observations. I talked to him about how much he’s changed since his first trip to the Brier a way back in 1991 – that, by the way, is almost 20 years ago. Aside from the fact that he has far less hair, he said that when he first got there and on the men’s circuit, he was pretty much a single-talent curler – a good hitter. He realized after playing against Russ Howard, Ed Werenich and Ed Lukowich, to name just a few, that he was going to need touch shots to survive. Don’t forget this is in the era of the old, boring rules.
And, of course, Martin did just that and is now one of the most complete curlers in the history of the game.
We also talked about the rivalry with Glenn Howard. These two, in my mind, are the best two teams in the game and I’ll be surprised if one of them doesn’t end up representing Canada at the Olympics.
From my own selfish, journalistic point of view, it’s not nearly as much fun as the Ferbey-Martin tete-a-tete, but on ice, it doesn’t get much better than these two.
There are lots of tie-ins between the two teams, of course, with Brent Laing and Craig Savill having played with John Morris in the junior days. But as Martin said, the rivalry is all about winning on the ice. He believes the teams are about 50-50 in wins and losses over the years although Howard has had the edge this season (where’s the Black Book when you need it?)
And just as Martin has matured and evolved as a curler, he has also grown savvy in dealing with the media. In the early days, he felt that his side of the story was not always portrayed as accurate and there was a period where I don’t think he viewed the press as anything but the enemy. He used to half-jokingly call me his favourite fiction writer. But he’s much better and clearly more comfortable in talking to the ink-stained wretches although he can be a bit more guarded and careful in what he says, especially in scrums where he might not know all the guys scribbling. In one-on-one situations, such as yesterday, I’ve found him very open and opinionated.
This will be K-Mart’s 10th trip to the Brier and it would be no surprise if he defended his title, much as Jennifer Jones did last week.