Thursday, March 7, 2013

Attendance dips while TV numbers rise

The Edmonton Brier won’t be setting any attendance records this time around with chairman Mark Johnson telling the Edmonton Journal’s Norm Cowley that while they’ll crack 200,000, they won’t get near the record of 281,000.

And despite the hometown team sitting on life support and fewer bums in seats, they’re still trying to paint a pretty picture of what’s ahead.

While overall attendance is way down from the record-setting total of 281,985 the last time the Canadian men’s curling championship was held at Rexall Place in 2005, the local organizing committee still expects to exceed its goal of 200,000 spectators. 
“It would be nice to have more people sitting in Rexall (Place) watching the event, for sure, but we’re doing OK,” said Brier chairman Mark Johnson, who saw a crowd count as low as 5,815 on Monday night. 
“There’s still some great exciting matchups (to come). A lot of these top teams still have to play each other.”

The dropping attendance is nothing new for the Brier although it is new for an Edmonton bash. There have always been safe spots to take the big shootout and Edmonton was just about the safest. You can throw in Calgary, Winnipeg and Regina or Saskatoon, but these days, nothing is guaranteed.

Last year, in Saskatoon, only 177,000 showed up. London a year earlier had 113,000 and Halifax in 2010 was 107,000.

In the case of the latter two, those numbers weren’t unexpected. Only seven Briers have ever cracked 200,000 so if Edmonton makes it this year, that’s not a bad mark.

The last two Briers in Edmonton drew 281,000 and 242,000 (1999). Next year in Kamloops will be another small one as the arena only holds about 6,000.

There are two issues that have led to a decline in attendance. The first is the aging audience. Look around at any curling event and the majority of people are older, in the senior citizen category. As they age, they are more content to stay home and there hasn’t been a major push to replace them although the CCA has put in a number of programs to try and entice younger people to come out.

The second is the comprehensive television coverage. Why trudge through the cold and snow to sit in a seat when you can stretch out on the couch, drink cheap beer and listen to Vic, Russ and Linda? So far, the TV numbers have been impressive with audiences averaging more than 500,000 per draw. Those are strong numbers, to be sure and if an Ontario-Manitoba final were to materialize, an audience in excess of a million would be almost a lock. 

This is not a problem that is unique to curling. All sports are battling with stay-at-home fans these days. It’s not going to get any easier, either. Budgets just need to get tighter; after all, 200,000 people at a Brier is only a problem if you’ve budgeted for 300,000. At the end of the day, it’s all about accounting.

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