York Urbanist

CURLING: A RECREATION TO A BUSINESS

In the coming weeks, this blog will create a hypothetical and entrepreneurial approach to rebuilding the sport of curling in the fictional community of Aasvogel, Ontario.  The story is based on a true life and death of a curling club. Curling is not a dying sport as reported elsewhere. The seeds of curling are able to be planted in any community.

Starting as a Dutch farm community, the village became affected by the changing Greater Toronto Area.  The farm-predominant community looked for activities for the winter. Scots farm immigrants had started a four-sheet curling club in 1951.The Scots imported curling and together one hundred formed a group who built a community centre mostly with volunteer labour and donated materials. Through the 1950’s and 1960’s, the membership grew to 250 but little else changed. Volunteers continued to run the club, making ice, catering events and running leagues for men.  Children of the founding members, baby boomers, provided the regeneration needed to sustain the club into the golden years of curling, the 1970’s. But some things changed.  The third generation was not large enough to provide natural growth for the club. Women wanted to join.  Opportunities to leave the community drew high schoolers to universities away from home. 

But alas, the community demographics changed while the curling membership stood still. Attrition at the normal rate of 15% was not countered by new members from a changing community.  Word-of-mouth had always worked in the past (1951 to 1980). But the club closed in 1988, unable to meet cost obligations. In 2014, the community of Aasvogel is a typical suburban community, population 20,000, whose cultural makeup continues to change.

So what happened?

During the later life of the club, new generations of immigrants and urban dwellers were buying into the community, because there was more land for less cost.  The town population was growing but the club membership was shrinking.

And the sport, in 1988, was isolated to a knowledgeable group of recreationists.

The volunteer board struggled with the shrinkage, not risking their friendships in the farm community by changing directions and fees. Why change what worked in the past?

Finally, the cost of replacing the 30 year-old compressor and plant parts would require $300,000. With fewer than 200 members, the board could not find the money through either donations nor fee increases and the club was forced to close.

What really went wrong?

Fear of Change: This was a proud club formed around a distinct demographic.  The members became comfortable, so much so that there was little long-term planning. The demographic change was coincident with population growth.  The club board failed to engage the new community members. 

Competition: The new community members were unfamiliar with the sport, the Town of Aasvogel built and subsidized an arena in which hockey dominated.  The arena was multi-functional, providing a facility available to the new community members.

Planning, Operations and Budget: The aging curling building had construction/maintenance problems, making it a hazardous facility, and not up to current regulations.  Without capital having been accumulated to cover depreciation of the asset, there was no fund to replace the asset.

Weakening Voluntarism:  Suburbanization caused families to spend more time commuting to workplaces.  Women joined the workforce in ever increasing numbers.  Adult volunteers became more scarce daytime and evenings.  The operations of the formerly volunteer run club struggled to continue without changing their program.

Demographic Change: The former curling demographic no longer could populate the club naturally. The new immigrant population was not educated about the sport.  The aging population does not bode well for the future of the curling club.

Does any of this hit home?  In the coming articles, we suggest that a new community curling facility can be built. We will break the steps down in each article.

 

STEPS:

  1. RE-FORMING THE CORE GROUP
  2. THE BUSINESS PLAN
  3. MARKETING
  4. BUILDING PLANS
  5. CURLING STAFF AND VOLUNTEERS
  6. THE OPERATION
  7. DELIVERING SERVICES
  8. SPECIAL EVENTS
  9. AFTER ONE YEAR
  10. AFTER FIVE YEARS
  11. AFTER THIRTY YEARS