Monday, November 17, 2014

Forgotten man in Grand Slam creation

I love reading Nolan Thiessen's columns on the Grand Slam of Curling web site. He's a thoughtful writer who has some good ideas about the game.

His latest column is on the creation of the Grand Slam of Curling and how many of they players sliding boulders in the big events don't really have a clue about where or how the series started. You can read his column here.

One thing that Thiessen doesn't mention is the importance of one guy who really was the force behind putting the Series together -- Kevin Albrecht. In my opinion, the Grand Slam wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Albrecht (later, he almost killed it off but we'll get to that shortly).

Albrecht, whom I knew from his work on the golf side of the business where he was Mike Weir's agent, had been working with some curlers and teams trying to get them sponsorship deals and was having little luck. The reason, of course, was that at the highest-profile event-- the Brier -- the players couldn't wear any sponsor cresting. Most of the other events had little TV time so trying to get any value for the sponsor was tough.

Albrecht lobbied the CCA, along with help from a number of the curlers, but without any luck. The governing body was rock solid in its stand and wasn't about to change.

I thought that the entire thing would  die a slow death. But then I got a call one morning asking if I could come to the IMG offices in Toronto for a meeting. Albrecht wouldn't tell me what it was all about, just come he said.

When I got there, I sat down with him and Kevin Martin. Something was up, I surmised.

That's when they gave me the scoop on the Grand Slam and how the players were going to play in their own events rather than the Brier and the playdowns leading up to them. Albrecht and his team had created four stops, got sponsorship money and was about to unveil it all. He allowed me to break the news in the Globe and Mail.

I remember getting all the details down and then trying to contact Dave Parkes to get the CCA's reaction. He didn't return calls and I later learned his first knowledge of the Grand Slam was while he was sitting on a plane going to Winnipeg. He saw the story that was on the front page of the sports section and apparently went into a slow burn.

The rest, as they say is history. But while Thiessen's column is right that the 18 teams deserve a lot of credit, so too does Kevin Albrecht and IMG for making the Grand Slam a business.

Of course a few years back, Albrecht left IMG, took the Grand Slam rights with him and slowly got into financial trouble. He didn't pay CBC to broadcast the events and it finally stopped. The Slam went to Rogers Sportsnet where it is today.

One interesting point in all this is that it was always referred to as a boycott. But really it was a choice. The players just chose their events rather than the CCA. That's not really a boycott in my books.

At the end of the day, what happened in that situation paved the way for big changes in the game -- prize money (although it's not really called that) at the Brier, more focus on the players and the creation of the Canada Cup.

Although Albrecht walked away from the sport in disgrace, he was vital in advancing it to where it is now.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Snaps of your Sleeps for Sandra

So what do curlers do when they retire from competitive play?

If you're Sasha Carter, you get involved in raising funds for the Sandra Schmirler Foundation. Carter is leading a fun campaign called Sweep To Sleep.

It's really quite simple. And loads of fun. All you have to do is take a picture that shows how you and/or your team sleeps. You can have fun with it, make it innovative, creative and even a little bit crazy.

From there, post the picture on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #sandraschmirler -- and then go to sandraschmirler.org and make a donation. You can also challenge other teams to get involved! Call them out and make them take their picture.

Get your family and friends to donate and indicate your team's name on the donation page. The team that raises the most money, will have their funds matched by the foundation and will be provided the opportunity to personally present to a NICU of their choice.

Plus every team that donates will be entered in a draw to win a "Bobblehead" for each member of the rink.

The campaign ends Dec. 15! 



Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Masters TV ratings: OK in a crowded market

The Masters of Curling finished up last week with some good games and even a pretty dramatic shot by runner-up Mike McEwen (if you missed it go here and watch).

The men's final drew 307,000 viewers while the women's final wasn't quite as popular, bringing in 264,000. Both finals took place on Sunday.

That means it's in a class that's less than CFL but above soccer, including the game between Man U and Man City, which had 264,000 sets of eyeballs.

These are decent numbers for curling and I'm sure Sportsnet is happy with them. Anything on a Sunday before Christmas will always have to go up against NFL which saps the audience potential. There was also Skate Canada (Ice Dance, 487,000) and NASCAR (476,000) to deal with.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Called and made: Mike McEwen

OK, this shot is crazy-good and so far, my leader (by a wide margin) for shot of the year. Not only was it an amazing shot, I think it was huge just to be able to see that it was there.
It happened in the Pinty's Grand Slam (see how I used the new sponsor's name in there?) final against Brad Gushue. Despite the great shot, it was the boys from The Rock who took home top prize.
Enjoy!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Outdoor curling ice in Toronto could be a reality -- with your vote

So this is one of the coolest initiatives I've seen in quite a while. The Toronto Curling Association is working with the City of Toronto parks department to have them set up curling ice in various spots around the city. Parks is onside and this can be a reality if Toronto can get some funding.

Right now, it's working to try and get a grant through Game On Toronto, which is a Pan Am Games initiative. To do that, curlers have to vote for curling. To do that, you have to go here:

 http://bit.ly/Vote4Curling 

You need to register and then you can vote once a day to help out curling. 

Hugh Murphy, the TCA's president, told me that the idea behind this is to take curling to the people. Instead of folks wondering how they would curl, how they would join a club, and whether folks other than rich old white people can play the sport, they will have ice pads out there ready for some demonstrations and games. 

So go and vote folks!!! We need your help. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Grand Slam gets title sponsor -- finally!

The Grand Slam of Curling is no more.

Now it's the Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling. Rogers made the announcement this afternoon on the eve of another season of the top-calibre curling events which get underway in Selkirk, Man.

Pinty's, of course, has been involved in curling sponsorship for some time with the TSN Skins Game as well as with the Rachel Homan team. The deal has a three-year term and involves the following, which was presented in a Sportsnet release:

Details of the sponsorship deal include:

·         Title sponsor of Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling
·         In-venue sponsorship including rinkboards, in-ice logos and on-site activations
·         Broadcast commercial spots, sponsor billboards and verbal on-air mentions
·         Integration across Sportsnet’s platforms including digital and magazine

In addition, the deal includes the creation of the Pinty’s Pub and Grill Zone, an in-venue ice-level VIP lounge area at all Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events. The area will be made available to VIP’s, curlers as well as curling fans, allowing them to get up-close and personal with the game and their favourite curling stars.

This is the third year of operation of the Grand Slam under Rogers which had been hoping to find a title since it took over the series. Can't really be anything but good news for the Slam. Chicken wings for everyone! 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ovechkin rips pants while curling

As many hockey teams have done over the years, the Washington Capitals held a team building outing at a curling club. This time, it was the Calgary Curling Club. All the players survived the outing. Alexander Ovechkin's pants, however, did not.

The blog Russian Machine Never Breaks, reported on the casualty.

The Caps held what I can only describe as an “intense team building event” at the Calgary Curling Club and I’m sad to report there was one casualty: Alex Ovechkin‘s pants. Let us have a moment of silence for #OviPants.

You can see lots of video and pictures at the site, including many of coach Barry Trotz, who reportedly organized the affair.