Curling can attract spectators. One needs to identify the attraction parameters. Here are most recent spectator statistics as provided by Canadian Curling Association:
TIM HORTONS BRIER
SCOTTIES TOURNAMENT OF HEARTS
||Sault Ste. Marie
There is seemingly little or no correlation between host city population and attendance. There is little trend to the increasing or decreasing popularity of the events over time. So what can we surmise? First consider other sports:
- Seven Game final NHL Hockey series are usually but not always sold out;
- Baseball World Series – SRO;
- Badminton championships have non-existent fans in North America, but watch out in Indonesia;
- Soccer anytime fills stands in England and Spain;
- Cricket creates riots in India and Pakistan;
- Could Super Bowl attract the audience without half time show and commercials?
Why do they succeed in attracting spectators; and conversely, why not? Let’s look at it through the marketing lens:
Regionality – In the case of successful sport events, the sport is engrained in the national culture. Cricket and badminton have regional clusters of culture. Baseball similarly has a regional (American) appeal. Frequently, front row seats are available at Blue Jays games, but in the USA, the national pastime passion fills the seats in select cities. Hockey is Canada’s game, which is why you can walk-in to playoff series in Tampa and Carolina while lowly Toronto teams’ seats still command a hefty sum even on losing streaks. Soccer, it seems, has the greatest universality. Even Toronto can attract spectators to BMO field. Curling has yet to achieve the national cultural identity of hockey, but it can come. Curling has its strongest culture regionally in the Prairie provinces. Analysing the population to attendance ratios in the stats above, though, you might interpret that there is also a niche in PEI.
Entertainment Value– The event is not all on the ice. Most Super Bowl spectators are avid American football fans, but there is testament to attendees being there to be seen or to fulfil a bucket list. Few attendees (unlike curling spectators) are football players. TV viewers are divided between football and half-time show aficionados. The Brier/Scotties has to become a non-curlers’ “go-to” event, and/or contain other entertainment value to draw non-curlers to its event. Suggestions: apply music more liberally, at gaps between games or 5th end break and at the Patch; Increase the media, outside traditional curling channels; and create month-long build-up of mini-events to the BIG events.
The Patch was the debacle of the Kamloops 2014 Brier. While the stands were less than half full, the locals secured seats at the Patch precluding curling fans from celebrating with their peers and heroes. The talk on the street was of anger that attendees in the seats were not guaranteed seats at the Patch. Although I gained access to the Patch, it was not the same as a year previous in Edmonton. In Edmonton, one could rub shoulders with the players and the casual acquaintances you met in the stands. In Kamloops, lineups outside had more people to whom I could relate than the crowd inside the Patch. If Kamloops organizers suffered at the gate, the CCA suffered more from Patch fall-out. The Patch at Briers, Olympic Trials or Scotties is curling’s most sacred emblem of camaraderie and fun. See Entertainment Value above.
Embracing Oddball Antics – Consider the news items that are generated from curling events. The SOCIABLES are a group of 10 Edmontonians who clothe and charm their way to notoriety at Briers. At the last four Briers, they became a presence and a valued asset to organizing committee’s, so much so that Pat Ryan invited them to Kamloops 2014 Brier just to add that entertainment value. Antics of individuals play a key role in curling event history. Flag runners such as John Francis in Harbin, China World Universiade and Jack Cox from Lindsay, Ontario at Briers become featured in local and national news (“Jack Cox, the elderly gentleman whose mad sprints with a massive flag have inspired Ontario curlers and thrilled crowds at 18 Briers, has been stopped by organizers, who are worried his dashes through the John Labatt Centre aisles are too dangerous”). Sometimes, as in Edmonton’s 2013 Brier, players throw caution to the wind and play to the audience. When it seemed that Kevin Martin could get in with a loss by Ontario’s Howard team, the crowd tried to throw him off his game with noise. Glenn embraced that heckling with a “bring-it-on” gesture, thus lightening and enlivening the crowd atmosphere. Guy Hemmings in his Brier years became an entertainment specialist and how Jeff Stoughton brings a crowd to life with his 360 spinarama delivery (only when out of contention).
Voluntarism – Volunteers can be your best marketing tools. When asked what they are doing March 1 to 9, 2015 they will proudly announce that they get close to the scene of an exciting event. People attract more people. Organizing committees will include a marketing subcommittee, frequently led by experienced and creative marketers. With leadership, this group will generate enough noise to infuse interest outside the curling clubs of the vicinity.
Venue size should match the event expectations – While the Brier and Olympic Trials can command a venue the size of an NHL Arena in the Prairies, the Scotties appears more successful in a 5000 seat ice house in regional curling centres. Venues can also benefit from event results, as happened in Kingston where Team Homan attracted plenty from Ottawa for their 2013 playoff push.
Distance from the action. Like tennis, the size of the projectile is insignificant to the size of the venue. Think of curling as if it was a concert. The spectators in the nose bleed sections need some intimacy, too. At a concert, large screens project that intimacy. Curling could benefit from similar large screens, like the ones that entertain the Patch attendees. Adopt/adapt more technology to allow spectators a clear idea of what is happening within the four foot of the pin. An app perhaps?
Cross Market with other sports: What if flag bearers were in-line skating hockey players; or Olympians of rhythmic gymnastics or trampoline expressed their skills in the ends of the rinks between games or fifth end break. Toronto could market the Pan Am Games at this year’s Scotties, introducing cycling and fencing for their own cross-marketing. Remember, other sports have similar challenges of audience. Work with them. UNITE!
Finding the right urban centre – In http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2011/06/06/top-10-cities-with-the-most-sports-championships, the top ten US cities for championship hosting are primarily based on size of population. Yet, in curling, figures show that Montreal had one of the poorest attendances of any Scotties. All persons interviewed for this article consider Toronto a lost cause as a venue city. Why? There is too much competition for what is still a fledgling sport of curling. Curling can attract spectators, by recognizing:
- that there are partnerships to embrace;
- respect for the curling public;
- other entertainment to be provided as part of major events; and,
- curling has a National Culture, it just needs nurturing.
This article is similar to edited version in http://thecurlingnews.com/subscribe/
See other curling related blogs at: http://yorkurbanist.com/blog/