The WCT. After 20 Years Are Things Better or Worse?

After the last blog about the non-existence of Professional Curling, the next, and most natural step, was to take a look at the organization governing non-playdown, competitive curling: the World Curling Tour.

Why? well, first off the WCT has a big say, perhaps too big, in how the game is run today (Broomgate is an excellent example-and the jury is still out on that one). Second, the WCT has been doing a lot of horn blowing lately. Primarily about the Slams and what a great job they do in developing the ‘professional’ side of the sport.

But have they really? After 20 plus years, is the competitive game actually in a better state than it was before the WCT? Don’t forget that in the last blog I put forth the notion that teams aren’t exactly raking in more money winnings then 30 years ago. And if working on both sides of the Blue and White Collar fence for over 37 years have taught me anything, it’s beware of the person who trumpets just how great a job they do. More often than not, that person is gussying up sub-par efforts in an attempt to keep out of the bosses eye. A 3 dressed up as 9, to quote the old Trooper classic.

So let’s take a closer look, shall we? What’s hiding under the make-up?

When the WCT was conceived in the early 1990’s the basic premise was simple: organize all the cashspiels into a cohesive tour, hold a year ending championship, try to establish TV coverage of Cashspiels, increase prize money, attract more corporate sponsors and create a players association to provide a badly needed voice for the curlers.

Until then no true, organized tour existed, but there was a shitload of cashspiels scattered across the country with a surprisingly large amount of money up for grabs. The only voice heard in our land was that of the Canadian Curling Association and in the minds of the athletes, myself included, they weren’t listening to our concerns.

By then we also knew that full Medal Status at the Winter Olympics was coming and what it meant financially. So the initial goals of the WCT were laudable indeed. Made a lot of sense at the time and still does. All the intentions were good ones.

Unfortunately, we already know what the road to hell is paved with.

Going over the entire history of the WCT would help you understand where and why things went sideways and why today a serious overhaul of the WCT would be a good thing. But that’s probably a year’s worth of blog entries on its own, perhaps even worthy of a book. I think the best way to show you is a quick now-vs-then snapshot comparison of the tour itself using just the prize money from events.

So here’s what we’re going to do:

Thanks to the internet we can compare the 1997-98 WCT season to this year’s 2016-2017 schedule. Since one of the primary goals was to organize the cashspiels and increase prize money, this makes sense as the best place to start. Are things better or worse for the average Canadian team playing as many events as they can on the tour? You can see if there was an increase or decrease in the number of events, if there is more or less money now available to teams and are spiels in general paying out more money.

And so none of you naysayers think I just make this stuff up, here’s the link to the 1997-98 schedule: http://www.saskcurl.com/wct97.htm God knows why SaskCurl has this in their archives but I’m grateful they do. Why doesn’t the WCT? Read on and you’ll get a notion as to why.

The current season’s schedule is available on the WCT website. I think you can find that with little trouble. So if you doubt my facts, fair enough. You can always look up the data and crunch the numbers yourselves.

I’m going to present the numbers in the following manner:

  • compare the total number of Canadian Cashspiels between the 2 seasons, first without the Slams then including those events
  • compare the total prize money available in both years
  • convert the 1997-98 prize money into 2017 dollars and compare them again.
  • compare the average prize money/event

Okay, you’re already skeptical because I’m removing any international events from the comparisons. Fair concern. I’m doing so because 99.9% of Canadian teams don’t travel outside the country-because they can’t afford it. Also, Canadian teams make up 90%-or more-of the teams that participate in WCT events and, lastly, the WCT was formed by Canadians to deal with concerns that were Canadian in origin. Add together all the clubs and curlers in the rest of the world and I doubt they even equal 10% of the size of the home game. So, yeah, I’m focusing on the red and white maple leaf here.

You’re next question is why exclude the Slams then add them back into the mix? Simple: except for the Slams every WCT event is essentially open to any team to enter. There is little, if any, prerequisite to entering a weekly tour event other than a non-bouncing cheque. And if an event is 1 team shy of meeting CTRS criteria they will take any team they can get who can pay the entry fee. Money and four heartbeats is all you’ll need to save a desperate host committee.

So the Slams are out because you have to be ranked high enough (in a system that’s grandfathered so much that once you’re in, its damn near for life) to get in. Plus, in 1997-98 there were no Slams, thus no barriers to entry. I’m also excluding the Canada Cup for similar reasons. To be fair though (and shock the hell out of you), I will include the Slams in a secondary comparison. And all numbers are in Canadian dollars.

One last thing: I fully accept that my numbers might not be 100% perfect. Math, after all, was not my best subject. Which is why I eagerly suggest you also try this same exercise. But they’re accurate enough that they paint a picture which is less than rosy.

Number of Domestic, Non-Slam WCT Events:

1997-98: 54

2016-17: 44 (with Slams its 52 events)

% increase or decrease: -18.5% (with Slams its only -3.7%)

Total Annual Domestic Prize Money Comparison:

1) Non-Slam WCT Event Prize Money (CAD)

1997-98: $1,778,600.00

2016-17: $879,280.00

% increase or decrease: -50.6%

2) Including Slam Events

1997-98: $1,778,600.00

2016-17: $1,679,280.00

% increase or decrease: -5.6%

Now, let’s convert the 97-98 bucks to their present value today. Just like the previous blog, I looked at several financial institutes for a rate to apply and the Mean came out to 1.52% from then to now. So how does this look?

Adjusted 97-98 Dollar Comparison, Non-Slam and Slam Events

Adjusted 97-98 Dollars ($1,778,600 x 1.52%): $2,703,472.00

% increase or decrease to 2016-17 Non-Slam events: -67.5%

% increase or decrease with Slam events included: -37.9%

Surprised? I was. Not by the losses but the actual extent of them. Sure, I knew we were down in the number of tour events but it was actually better than I expected. The amount of overall money decrease, however, was something I did not foresee.

There’s one more set of numbers you also need to know:

Average Non-Slam Prize Money/Event

97-98: $32,937.00/event (adjusted to 2017 dollars: $50,064/event)

16-17: $19,983.64/event

% increase or decrease: -39.3% (using adjusted amount: -60%)

There is no sugarcoating this. The reality is we are playing for a great deal less money, in fewer events than 20 years ago and even with the Slams, things are getting worse, not better. They aren’t even staying stagnant.

Now I will accept as valid the argument that there are probably more domestic events on the CTRS list than the WCT schedule, and that means possibly an increase over the 1997-98 numbers. But this raises the question: Why don’t those events want to be part of the WCT?

IMO, it’s because the CCA owns the Olympic Trials and they decide who goes-courtesy of their system. So why bother being part of the WCT when all your spiel has to do is meet the CTRS event criteria and it gets advertised, free of charge, on the CCA website?

The only advantage the WCT has with the CTRS is the ridiculous amount of points teams receive for playing in Slams. However, all it would take is a groundswell of curlers to complain, quite rightfully, about those points and the grandfathering. Apply some pressure and the CCA would be forced to adjust those points to a lower and more realistic level.

The second argument, only somewhat valid, is the increased TV coverage-mainly of Slam events. But (there’s that word again), in the early years the WCT actually had regular coverage of tour events and the championship, broadcast from the clubs hosting them. So I’m going to call a wash on that one.

Why a wash? because you should remember that the WCT does not own the Slams, a television network does. Sportsnet doesn’t have to listen to the WCT, the CCA or the players if they so choose. If they decided it would be more profitable and better for ratings if we all played Slams in our underwear then that’s what they’d mandate. They also decide if the Slams continue. Not getting the ratings or the advertising dollars? They can, and could, pull the plug anytime. Their events, their rules. Chew on that for a while.

Oh, remember that Player Association I mentioned? Well it did exist-for a while anyways. The last press release I can locate is dated 2009 and announces the results of elections for board members. A quick check with the Corporations Canada federal office confirms that the WCPA-as it was known-was officially dissolved with little fanfare or farewell on 2015-05-07.

Which raises the questions: Who’s really calling the shots at the WCT? and who are they answering to?

There’s other things to point out which show the crumbling wall the WCT is slowly becoming. But as I said earlier in the blog, each of those is pretty much a single entry unto themselves-if you want to do a proper job. However, I think I’ve painted an accurate and alarming enough picture for you.

So the next time you hear a sound bite, or read a press report, by some talking head about the great state of the WCT and the ‘professional game’, take it with a big grain of salt. Better yet, write an email to the broadcaster or writer and point out just these factoids and ask them why they don’t do their homework before blowing the WCT’s horn.

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