Friday, April 3, 2015

CBC.ca: 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 CBC.ca, 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?

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