Friday, August 18, 2006

Goodbye Sportsnet curling

A shocker this week that the Rogers Sportsnet era of curling is over... but first, a pink brush update!

The BalancePlus breast cancer campaign is almost – but not quite – over. The limited-edition batch of 100 pink-handled brushes sold out quickly, and $10,000 has been raised for breast cancer research, but you still have a 1 in 8 chance of scoring one of these babies. And, these last eight sticks shall be autographed by two BalancePlus curling squads: Team Anette Norberg and Team Glenn Howard.

Simply head to this special BP page and fill out your entry ballot to win... and start crossing fingers and toes. And congrats to BalancePlus on a successful pre-season campaign to boost a worthy charity.

Now... just a couple of months following the upheaval in curling’s traditional CBC/TSN landscape (effective fall 2008, of course) word has finally broken that Sportsnet’s coverage of high-performance curling is over and out. And the beleaguered CBC may be back in the game... the Grand Slam game, that is.

Debuting with GMC World Curling Tour coverage back in 1999, the network then known as CTV Sportsnet debuted an all-new talent lineup of play-by-play man Rob Faulds and colour commentators Ed Lukowich and Marilyn Bodogh, both world champion skips in 1986 (and Bodogh again in ‘96). Curtis Saville, the son of Edmonton-based hockey and curling supporter Bruce Saville, produced the shows and recent years saw Rick Davis in the director’s chair.

The decision came down a while ago, and according to workhorse newsbreaker Al Cameron of The Curling News (naturally) and the CanWest news chain (subscription only), Sportsnet has dropped curling as part of a “revamped programming lineup aimed at attracting younger viewers. Ratings – Slam finals generally attracted respectable numbers – were not an issue, but the older demographic of the viewership was.”

World Curling Tour honcho Paul Boutilier was reportedly advised of the planned departure, thus freeing him up to deal with other networks. Cameron reports that the rumour mill is talking about CBC, but Boutilier refused to confirm.

“I think, from our perspective, you'll see a certain recognition of the series at a very high level,” was all Boutilier would tell Cameron. “Certainly, as a series, it's a big step.”

Such a deal would mark a huge boost to CBC Sports, and allow the national broadcaster to maintain its association with the sport it has pioneered on TV since the 1960s.


It's part of the new direction we're heading here. It's a programming decision, and it (curling) doesn't really fit in with our plans as far as programming goes. We had an excellent relationship with them, and we wish them all the luck in finding another partner to air this product. It's a great product, and we're sure they'll find somebody.
Andy Shapiera, Sportsnet communications officer

We're disappointed to lose a partner who's been involved in the Grand Slam from the very start. But, in that industry, you could be right back on the network within a few years.
– WCPA President Paul Boutilier

I'm kind of unhappy about it but, on the other hand, my winters have been so busy, so I can kind of concentrate on my U.S. curling stuff. Sportsnet has been great for the sport; I've enjoyed working with them, it was a great association. I have nothing but good things to say about them.
Ed Lukowich, former Sportsnet curling analyst


• This news, of course, would mean that the Grand Slam of Curling is back for a sixth season. Perhaps not uncoincidentally, a Halifax paper ran a piece this week on the Slam returning to tiny Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia, with a date to be confirmed...

• Word that Brandon’s Wheat City Classic WCT spiel has been cancelled may be just the tip of the iceberg, as the “leasing arrangements for the Golf and Curling Club have been terminated effective September 30, 2006 and the operation of our facility is being returned to the City of Brandon”...

• The cavalry are riding to the rescue in Saskatchewan... we hope. The CCA’s Business of Curling symposium rolls into the wheat province next month, aiming to streamline and professionalize the business model of struggling curling clubs. And not a moment too soon: 10 years ago the Saskatchewan Curling Association boasted 250 curling clubs: now they count under 200 and the numbers continue to decline...

• New Zealand curling sees a new face at men’s skip position. Dan Mustapic, one of the expat Canadians who played second for homegrown Sean Becker at the Turin Olympics, skipped his new-look squad to victory over Becker at the recent NZ national championship. The team now heads to Japan for the Pacific Championships later this fall in an attempt to qualify for the Ford Worlds in Edmonton. This was the first real national championship as the NZ Curling Association moves away from team selection criteria in favour of on-ice performance. Bridget Becker won the women’s title...

• According to this MacLean’s story, Winnipeg’s Granite CC gets a cameo appearance in the new 2007 film Blue State...

• The PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) is underway in Vancouver, and today’s sport-themed parade includes “human curling rocks”...

Great Goodbyes: a while ago we detailed the breakup of Team Ralph Stoeckli, and a new lineup – complete with Italian flavour – for former third Claudio Pescia. Well, the new Team Stoeckli website isn't quite up and running yet, but the old lineup that entertained worldwide fans for six-odd years has posted a fond farewell to its fans, check it out...

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