Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Declining Numbers & the Future of Curling

The chase for the Scotties, Brier and M & M Juniors is well on its way. The last couple of week’s teams across Manitoba have been competing in zone play downs for a chance at competing at the provincials later this curling season. I would like to congratulate all the teams that won their zone.

Now to the unfortunate news, the number of teams competing is down from last year. This may not seem all that crucial but it is very concerning. I can understand at the higher levels of curling why teams are just not competing. The skill gap between the elite teams and club teams is greater than it has ever been. This fact can be a large deterrent for the average Joe who is thinking of competing in the play downs. I just don't understand why juniors are suffering so much. ONLY 11 teams entered the Junior Men's zones & 7 teams for the Junior Women's zones in Winnipeg. There were 3 spots to provincials for both the Junior Men and Women. The numbers have not been strong for a long time but we are told time and time again that the numbers in junior programs are strong. I want proof from someone. Last week on Rock Talk on Sports Radio 1290 we had 2 members from the Elmwood on the program to discuss their club's 100th anniversary celebrations. We asked them how their numbers were in their junior program. They responded and said there were about 100 juniors from little rockers to their competitive league. The kids may or may not being encouraged to compete at a higher level and that’s fine. It is their decision but the future of curling lies in their hands.

Curling is reaching a point where it is on life support. TSN draws a pretty big audience on their broadcasts but their demographic is getting older. Only 10 years ago when Greg McAulay won the brier people were a lot younger. Crowd numbers at the Brier and Scotties have declined over the past few years with a few exceptions in Alberta. Even in 2008 when the Brier was in Winnipeg numbers were not great. Curling has always had trouble attracting the casual fan.

What I think will happen is curling will move to a more defined professional and amateurs sides. With the creation of the Dominion Club Championships club curlers will have a chance at a national championship that will be attainable. Teams at the top are obviously better but are not treated like other athletes in other sports. Could you imagine watching a sports channel and suddenly there is breaking news. Kevin Martin has signed a 2 year extension with Saville Sports Centre for 500 thousand per year. This will never happen in our lifetime. Curling will become the first sport to have 2 levels of completion: amateur and amateur/pro.

Warren Hansen of The Last End wrote an interesting piece which you can read here. In the article he speaks about how things were when the juniors were the National School Boys championship and the decision by the CCA to change the age of juniors twice. He suggests that the CCA should change the age of juniors to 21 and the creation of a juvenile national championship where kids are no older than 16, 17 or 18. I think the age change would be nice change as that would finally synchronize Canada with the rest of the world. Great news for the creation of the national juvenile championship, it already exists. The Optimist International Under-18 Curling Championships was created in 2001 and some great curlers have already competed in it. Kaitlyn Lawes, Matt Wozniak, Daniel Kammerlock, Chelsea Carey, Charley Thomas, Derek Samagalski, Rachel Homan have all competed at the Optimist Curling Championship. The Optimists have done a fantastic job creating a breading ground for juveniles to compete at a national championships but it is time either the CCA or the WCF steps in and sanctions this as an official event. Most provinces already have a play down to decide a winner who gets to go to the U18 championship. Hell, they even provide a banner and jackets to match for the winners. The only thing the U18 does not have is the official sanction. The championship has proved that it can survive and great curlers have already come from the championship. Warren Hansen has some great ideas in his article.

That is enough of my rambling for now. If you have any suggestions or comments please leave them below and I will answer them ASAP. You can catch me Wednesday night on Rock Talk with Resby Coutts on Sports Radio 1290. Email your questions or comments to rocktalk@mymts.net and we may just have a chance to talk about it.

Happy Holidays,

P.S. Here is a picture of my team and I at the 2003 U18 Optimist Curling Championship. Not the greatest picture :D

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