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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

More Slams? Sure! As long as the Brier is not the 8th Slam

So a few people have asked my opinion about the Sportsnet Grand Slam Deal. Last year, I wrote What the Olympics Have Done to CompetitiveCurling, which got shared about 10,000 times (which is a lot in the curling world!), and at least 5,000 times if you exclude my mother clicking on it over and over again.
For those of you who have not heard, the Curling Grand Slam has announced plans to expand their coverage to seven events – from its current lineup of 4.
Predictably, the Grand Slam teams and players have lined up to say that this is the best thing since sliced bread and yoga pants on female curlers, while the “Non-Elite” have griped about the rich getting richer – and about this reinforcing the notion that the non-elite teams in Canada will get the short end of the broom.
Firstly, I am definitely a member of the non-elite competitive curling class. I am not bad at curling. I practice my ass off, I play as much as job and family obligations will allow, I win some cash, and I play on arguably the 2nd best team in Quebec (we just lost the provincial finals to JM Ménard), and I like to chase the dream. I want to curl on TV, like the guys I watched at the Brier back when I had hair like Jeff Stoughton. I want to wear a provincial jacket. This keeps me coming back every year (even after soul-crushing defeats like this year and last). I am a competitive curler. It is in me. And whenever I play in spiels, either in Quebec or elsewhere, I get the feeling that I am not alone. I love it.
However, I also have a job. I have a very generous employer who grants me 4 weeks off for good behaviour, as well as a few personal days to boot. I also have a family. I have three kids who amazingly like seeing me and spending some time with me, and they also like the idea of being on a beach somewhere in July or August like most of their friends. I realize that family and job are choices that I have made, and I accept that these choices keep me from going to the Olympics. They definitely keep me from Slamming – as I could not even conceive playing a schedule of 15 or so weekends of spieling PLUS provincials PLUS maybe even a Brier. Our 5th man would have to be a divorce lawyer!
So I am a dedicated curler - A die-hard, competitive, good-but-not-great member of Canada’s non-elite curling class. So the question is – what is to come of me? Am I relegated to the Dominion (or the Travelers, as I believe it is now called)? Should I focus on the Mixed?  I am not angry – I am not resentful – I am just increasingly aware that curling no longer caters to guys like me. Whereas 20 years ago it felt like I was in the majority, I am now an increasingly rare species. We have been starved into non-existence, by a lack of places to play, and tournaments to play in. I don’t really know how many of us there are left. Participation in provincial playdowns is a tiny fraction of what is was 10 or 20 years ago. I know more ex-competitive curlers than I do competitive ones.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Slams are awesome, and I have nothing against them. I would love to play in one. But the Slams are not about promoting curling - or about growing the game, and that's fine. Let me explain:
Somewhere in my non-curling years I picked up an MBA, which taught me a few things about money and business. So, if the good people at Sportsnet and the World Curling Guys can convince sponsors to pay, and if the ad revenue is there, then why not have more events? Why not give more to the elite. Admittedly, nobody is lining up to pay to watch me play on TV, but apparently enough people are paying to watch Gushue, Koe and McEwen. So I say more power to you guys!
Is this doing a lot to develop curling? I dunno. Maybe? At some point you have to think there might be some saturation. At least this year has provided some fresh new faces to watch, and some great highlights. Does it grow the sport? I don't know. It certainly doesn't hurt!
But here is the truth: The Slams were not created to grow curling, nor is it their mandate to do so. The Slams are about money. The Slams are about cashing in on the TV popularity of curling. The Slams have NOTHING TO DO with overseeing the well being of “the game”.
A few people have mentioned that the Slams might start holding “feeder” events to help the non-elite 10 qualify for a Slam here or there. I really like this idea. I also like the idea of these events being regional, so that each Slam can have some local teams in the mix. And if they do so, I would be grateful. But they are not obliged to do so. It will likely not help their TV ratings or sponsor revenues. But it would help create the idea that some of the non-elite teams could at least play their way into the slams.
So, all in all, more slams? Why the hell not. If people are watching than go for it! If you want to create a series of “feeder events” to help draw in some more teams, than I would say Thanks! – and tell me where to send my entry. But I do not expect it!

Where I have a problem is the Canada Cup. And the Continental Cup. And the Brier catering to the elite. And relegation. And Team Canada.
While the Slams have no obligation to be “Stewards of the Game”, the Canadian Curling Association DEFINITELY has this role. A significant amount of its funding comes from government, and a significant amount comes from curlers. While sponsor money plays a big (okay massive) role in their funding as well, I still think that the CCA has a role in protecting THE GAME.
When I read Warren Hansen saying things like “the Canada Cup will be Bigger than the Brier”, I shake my head. When I see relegation implemented at National championships, I shake my head. When I see an event like the Canada Cup held for seven teams, I shake my head. While they can claim to be succeeding in their role of developing the elite, they are failing to protect the greater game. And I hate to tell you, but the Elite really don’t need the CCA to get better.
I get that the Slams might not be for me. But the CCA seems to be telling me to stay in the Mixed, Mike; the big CCA stage is only for the Slam Teams. I object to that.
I say let the Slams be the Slams! They are doing it well. But I believe the CCA has to rethink how it can manage the well-being of the game by creating more inclusive events.    

In the meantime, I will get back to practicing my arse off, so I can beat f***ing Ménard and get to the damn Brier before it becomes the 8th Slam event.


While I am here – continued good luck to a kid from my home club who is currently tearing it up at Junior Nationals. I can attest to hard hard Felix Asselin and his team work at this game, and I am overjoyed at seeing them getting rewarded for their dedication. Looking forward to seeing them on TV this weekend, even with the red pants. So Felix, as we say in Quebec: “Merde!”


  1. Totally thinking the same thing Mike. Did you read Nolan Thiessen blog? Interesting. Many people are also have a feeling the slams are trying to dictate what the CCA does. Which is totally wrong Amanda Bulger

  2. Great blog once again Mike!
    Would like to add my two cents…
    More Slam a good thing for curling? Overall I think yes. The more exposure the game gets, better are the overall chance of getting new participants at the beginning level. We are saturated with hockey on every channel and it works, it’s our national sport. Therefore, the more we see the game, the better it is…
    Modification needs to be done in the Brier structure order to allow legitimate chances to the above average competitive players/team to have possible national appearance since not every team can afford the busy and crazy high competitive life style.
    Here are my suggestions:
    1. Teams playing in more than 2 Slams would be excluded from the playdowns leading to the Brier;
    2. Brier winner would not be attending the World Championship but would be invited to the Canada Cup the following fall;
    3. Canada Cup should be expended to 8 or 10 teams and would include the Brier winner;
    4. Canada Cup winner would represent Canada at the World Championship.
    1. The high competitive and dedicated team would be able to play in their “Professional Circuit” and obtain most of the spot at the Canada Cup;
    2. Other teams in the country would play for the pride of representing their province at the Brier and winner would still get a shot a playing in the World Championship should they win the Canada Cup.
    3. Club teams get the Travellers Championships, above average team get the Brier and the “pros” get their own circuit.

    JM Menard

    1. Some variation of this concept could do alot to generate interest again in the "non-elite" competitive teams. Perhaps add that an individual player can only enter a Brier playdown if they have less than "X" purple hearts already (five might be a good number). You could also add that a player has a max of 2 Brier Championship wins and then they are excluded from playdowns. Then the Brier becomes the main feeder system to elite events and can still be the best curling event on the planet, but also forces elite teams to move onto Slams only or help develop the game behind the scenes instead.

  3. Great comments Mike and Mr Menard. I believe you are right on with your remarks. Grass route curling is dropping and the TV coverage grows so i agree that all this exposure is not drawing people to the rink.I believe you take the elite,name,teams that have won over (pick a financial#)in the past 2 years out of the Brier equasion and you still have a great Brier.I believe most spectators go to cheer on thier provincial champ regardless of skips name(you would have to ask the CCA if most people in Ontario have asked for a refund since Team Howard was elliminated). There are lots of great players in most provinces who put in lots of time at practice but they may not have a rich sponsor, may not have 4 guys that can go to8 plus spiels a year but they can still make a lot of shots.And believe me as i got to play in 1 Brier that if you get there rocks,ice and conditions allow you to make a lot of those same shots that you get to watch those other very gifted talanted players make week in week out.I was fortunate to live that curling dream and i hope many others in the future get a realistic chance to live thier Brier dream.. Fred Thomson

  4. Great comments guys, agree 100 per cent!!

  5. Great post Mike,

    It used to be said that there are no proffessional curlers, this is changing, with state sponsored teams that tour Canada.

    Our Elite have to keep up, and i think the slams are great for that!

    The CCA and provincial associations need to devellop competition more. Relegation was an ugly decision...that being said is it fair that the 6th best team in Alberta can never play on the national stage while the Best in PEI can, and some years would not get out of Quebec Regionals?

    Do we water down the briar? Maybe but once its done it cannot be undone!

    In club we have to get teams to play out...that is an investment, in the future.

    The more money available at any level(and there should be 3 or 4 levels) the more it makes sense to take time to devellop your game

  6. Hey Mike,
    Thanks for the kind words for my junior team. But what is wrong with the red pants? Perhaps you have forgotten about the pants you are wearing on the front page of your Curlingzone BlogSpot!


  7. Smells like relegation at the Scotties! How many teams will be at provs next year not knowing if they even have a shot at the main event of the Scotties.