Friday, April 3, 2015

Menard's column rubs one athlete the wrong way

Jean-Michel Menard's guest blog the other day has seemingly rubbed at least one fellow athlete the wrong way. Speedskater Ivanie Blondin sent out a Tweet saying that she felt he was acting a bit spoiled.

Menard said that he was bothered by the constant erosion of perks and accessibility given to the curlers at the Brier. Of course everything is relative. If you haven't had any of that stuff, you don't know what you're missing. And certainly most other athletes don't get treated as the men curlers do at the Brier. Even the women at the Scotties never had it quite as good as the men. They're now about equal. To some that I heard from, Menard sounded a bit like a petty child whining.

But if you've played in a number of Briers as Menard has, you would view the changes as cuts. Apparently if you are a speedskater such as Ivanie Blondin, then you view what the curlers have currently as pretty darn good.

Part of this is hard to compare of course. A speedskating event is unlike a Brier.  A bit of apples to oranges. Not every player in the Brier is getting Sport Canada funding as an athlete such as Blondin would either.

One thing that seems a little strange in this? I wonder why a speedskater was reading a curling blog to begin with? Curling a lousy game to see live

It's not news that curling attendance is suffering of late. It's also not earth-shattering that one of the major causes of that is the excellent television coverage. Curling fans, who are generally older, like to sit at home and watch rather than go to the rink, the thinking goes.

But Don Marks, writing on, argues that one of the major reasons people aren't going to watch curling live in the numbers as they used to is that it's a lousy sport to watch in an arena. 

The problem is that you can’t see most of what is going on from most of the seats in a large arena.  
For example, when you are sitting at one end of a sheet of ice, you cannot see exactly what happens when rocks arrive at the house at the other end. Unless you are sitting in the nose bleed seats far away from the live action, it is impossible to catch the angles and nuances of the shots, and this is especially frustrating in clutch situations.
Curling is a game of inches that demands an overhead camera to determine exactly what is going on.  What live curling really needs are overhead seats.

It's true. Depending on where you're sitting in the rink, it can be hard to figure out what's going on. I remember during the Vancouver Olympics vacating my media seat to sit for a few ends with a friend who was in the VIP section. It was on the side, near one end. You couldn't see have the houses and even those that you could see were limited in scope, i.e. who was shot.

Much of that was alleviated by the screen on the clock apparatus that sat in clear view to everyone. It showed the TSN feed without sound. But it only covered one game so if you were trying to watch a game that wasn't being featured, it was tough.

That said, I think part of the experience of being in the arena is to hear the sounds of the crowd, the yells, the rocks crashing. I also think in most cases you can see at the very least some of what's going on and so you can get a really good sense of the talent of the players.

Two years ago I went to the old Maple Leaf Gardens for the Players Championship and stood up on the concourse and could see much of what was going on. Would it have been better on TV? For sure, but there was a really cool part about being there. And that's what I think Marks is missing here.

Marks goes on to say that he believes if something doesn't change, curling will face a slow decline in attendance that will devastate the sport as a live event.

Ratings for TV broadcasts of curling remain high and the CCA is already talking about moving major competitions into smaller houses (6-9,000 seats) to maintain the atmosphere of a “packed house”.  
But how long are sponsors going to lay out big cash for games where the crowd noise sounds like a community club swim meet? 
This is not the way to build the sport. 
It is ironic that people keep predicting that elite sports like football and hockey will price their tickets outside the market for the average fan so that one day the seats will only be filled by corporate suits or none at all. 
And it turns out that the most grassroots sport of them all is the one that is playing before empty houses.

I'm not so sure that smaller venues aren't a positive. I mean, if you can take the Brier back to places such as St. John's, where it will likely be a hit and probably sell out, it's a good thing. As long as the sponsor is happy and you don't lose your shirt.

So curling fans, do you enjoy going to the game more than watching it on TV or perhaps a little bit of both?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Menard on the changing of the Brier

Over at In The House Curling, one of my favourite blogs, Mike Fournier, allowed 2006 Brier champion Jean-Michel Menard to post a guest blog and it's quite an eye-opener.

Menard doesn't tackle the easy topic of relegation, but pulls back the curtain on the constant cuts to the Brier, from a player's standpoint.

You can (and should) read the entire article here 

Essentially the article says that as far as players go, there has been a slow erosion of services. Some of the things Menard discusses are the lack of dedicated drivers, the disappearance of the players' lounge, fewer hotel rooms and even food in between games.

The one that sticks out for me is the end of a team driver. There's a great history of teams having their own driver. For volunteers, it was one of the great jobs to get. In one of the most famous partnerships, Sam Richardson served as the team driver for Jack MacDuff's Newfoundland team that won the 1976 Brier. Richardson started the week as the driver and ended up as the team coach!

From the CCA side, I suspect this is something that had to be done to preserve the bottom line. The Brier is no longer the cash-cow it once was. Cutting costs is just something that's unfortunately inevitable. When crowds aren't showing up, the money has to come from somewhere. It may seem cheap and it may come at the expense of the stars of the show, but I'm not sure what else you can do?

However, a few of these cuts make the CCA look bad. Food in the players dressing rooms between games seems like something that could be arranged pretty easily. If you have back-to-back draws, the time between games can be tight, especially if you happen to be a player or team that is in demand by the media. You finish your game and spend possibly 30 to 40 minutes with the press and then have to hustle to get something to eat. And if the officials are getting something in their room, I can't see why the players shouldn't get something too.