It’s not a big secret to anyone who knows me, I don’t like the Grand Slam of Curling events. But understand this; I don’t want to dislike them.
The initial premise, started years ago, was done with the best of intentions and a very simple aim: to grow and promote the competitive side of the game with an eventual, lofty goal of professionalism.
That’s right, the dream that one day you could make enough money on your winnings to make curling your full-time job. And the Slams were supposed to be the roads which would pave the way. But we all know, don’t we, where roads paved with good intentions often end up.
Before even leaving for Cranbrook I could have, for lack of a better term, slammed the Slams. But I wanted to wait. I wanted to experience the whole thing firsthand from the perspective of a participant. Witness for myself the sparse crowd, made for TV event owned not by our tour, but by a television network.
The Slams, dear reader, are-after a fashion-curling’s version of a reality show. Not quite Honey Boo-Boo, Duck Dynasty or the Real Fake Bimbos of Wherever. But not too far off them either.
I also felt I owed it to the good folks in Cranbrook who did the real work; the local organizers and volunteers-who give up their time and money-to see the real thing, up close and personal, before I started ripping into a dream they’d all spent a great deal of time and effort on.
So I went with an open mind. I knew I needed to spend some real time in the belly of the beast. Because deep down I desperately wanted to be wrong about the Slams. I really, really did.
But I wasn’t. The Slams, in their current state, are not good for the game.
First off, Cranbrook has nothing to be ashamed of. The problems with the Slams lie way outside their areas of responsibility. You guys can, and should, hold your heads up high in pride of your efforts-ones that I lauded in my previous Blog post.
What’s wrong with the Slams you ask? 3 major issues. They are as follows:
- Unnecessarily long in length and trying to out Brier the Brier
- Creating a false class distinction based on supposedly superior team ability
- Owned by a TV network, not the players
First, playing in a Slam is boring. They take too long for no reason. The fault lies in the desire to out Brier the Brier.
The Brier is, and will always be, the granddaddy of events. It’s the Big Kahuna, packing NHL size arenas for an entire week, pulling in great TV ratings and raking in the bucks. So, on paper, it seems sensible to emulate, if not imitate, the concept. Except you can’t. The Brier, and its female counterpart the Scott Tournament of Hearts, is a National Championship and thus has a history, character and a legend you cannot match.
The Slams? It doesn’t matter how you dress them up or hype them, they will always just be Cashspiels. Which is not bad, if you do things the right way.
The games themselves aren’t boring. But the long stretches between them are. It took four days for us to play four games. There is no reason any event should take that long to run through its qualifying round-with two days still left to play. By comparison, a typical 32 team triple knock-out format would be finished over that same time.
So in their efforts to become bigger than the Brier, we now have cashspiels that take damn near a week to play. And this hurts the game. How so? you ask.
A Slam can require up to 6 full days off work-depending on where you are from, where it is and the necessary travel arrangements to get from point A to point B. So instead of 2 or maybe 3 days off, you’d best budget a week. And there are 8 Grand Slam events.
Now stop right here and ask yourself: Do I have 8 weeks of holidays to donate to curling? (and an employer who can/will spare you over that time) Can I afford my share of $8.000.00 in entry fees? 8 weeks of Hotels? 8 weeks’ worth of dining out? Do you have a family, can you afford 8 weeks away from your partner and kids? (And that’s just the Cashspiel portion of your season. There’s still the time needed for Provincial and National Championships to factor in on top of that).
If you’re honest, my bet is 99.9% of you answered: Fuck No! to all of those questions.
So who’s this 00.1% who can say yes? Well, for the most part they are wealthy teams who, for whatever reasons, are able to say yes to most, if not all, of those magic questions.
Stop right there if you think I’m anti-wealthy. I’m not. Anyone who works hard and becomes successful has my utmost respect and, in many cases, admiration. I also don’t begrudge those born into money-provided they don’t consider themselves superior because of the luck of the genetic draw.
Wealth can be a decided advantage to participation in sports-all sports. It will always exist but wealth should never, ever, be a determining factor in sport. Given a fair and reasonable playing field that is accessible to the majority of athletes, then talent should win out as that determining factor.
And this is the segue into issue number two. A false class distinction is being promoted about the teams that play in the GSOC: that they are immensely superior to the rest of the competitive teams on the tour.
Truth is, of course, that they’re not. Because that perceived superiority has as much to do with wealth as it does with talent.
The problem is simple; the Slams are set up in such a fashion (see issue #1) that only a few can afford to participate on a steady basis. Not because they are the only good teams in the world, but because, generally speaking, they have the wherewithal to participate in more, or all, of these events. And, thanks for the wonderfully complicated and whacky CTRS/WCT Order of Merit those few teams are the mainstay of the GSOC events.
Yes, playing in more events can help your team improve. But it does not bestow superiority. I watched enough Tier One games in Cranbrook to have this confirmed. Those teams missed the same shots, made the same errors as we poor schmucks in the Tier Two. Their numbers weren’t any better either and this goes for teams of both sexes. And I heard more than a few spectators and organizers bemoaning the same comments.
It comes down to this: the vast majority of competitive teams in Canada simply cannot afford a steady diet of Slam events. So they’ve turned into the almost private playground of a few teams who reap the CTRS and WCT Order of Merit points (unfairly weighted in favor of the Slam events) and it becomes a self-repeating cycle as you watch basically the same teams in almost every Slam (btw, mention that little observation to some of those guys and watch their heads explode-lol!).
But we also have to take back some ownership of the GSOC from Sportsnet as players. And I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
Why? well I think most of you are intelligent enough to know that a television network is not interested in doing what’s best for curling. It, like any business, is only interested in doing what’s best for itself-as it should.
Sure, they can talk partnerships, wave the flag and put on a great dog and pony show to convince you otherwise. Right now they love us. Curling is great filler when there aren’t big ticket sports to broadcast. We have pretty steady viewership numbers to attract advertisers and help Sportsnet pay the bills. TV likes steady numbers.
But know this: the moment that curling ceases to fill their aims and costs them money, or we get a little too uppity, we will be flushed down the toilet like an unwanted, overgrown aquatic pet.
Until then Sportsnet, not the players, are the ones calling the shots (to steal a curling metaphor). They listen a little bit to what we suggest but most goes in one ear and out the other. If you can stand the fine print, as proof I suggest you read the contract a local committee has to sign to host a Slam. It’s a frightening document and it’s not one written with our interests at heart. It’s not a judgment, it’s a fact. If you can distance yourself from the game for a moment you can also understand their perspective. But that still doesn’t make their ownership of the GSOC good for the game. Somehow we need to take back the GSOC or, somehow, convince Sportsnet to make some radical changes.
So unless we address those 3 core issues, the competitive game will eventually become too expensive to play. We will see participation continue to drop off and our talent pool is going to weaken as a result. And that folks, whether you agree with me or not, is wrong.
So, Mr. Know-It-All-Smartass, what would you do?
Well, I’m flattered you asked. Get ready for Part 3 of Cranbrook…Fixing the Slams.