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!”