So, What if the Slams Didn’t Exist?

First off you have Gerry Guerts, the wizard of Curling Zone, to blame for this edition of the blog. It was, after all, his idea.

A few weeks back Gerry was on Facebook trumpeting the fifth anniversary of the Slams being saved from oblivion by Sportsnet. Who stepped in and bought them after financial miss-management and ineptitude almost ended them for good. (remember how all of sudden it was revealed that a certain TV network wasn’t getting paid and was about to pull its coverage? We never did find out what happened to the money, did we?)

I commented that far from the eighth wonder of the curling world, the Slams were instead damaging the tour and the competitive game, referencing my blog entry from last season where I pointed out, with facts, how the tour was actually in worse shape than it was twenty years ago.

To his credit, Gerry admitted my numbers were correct. But he then reeled off a few items about what a great big bowl of goodness the Slams truly are. Now I didn’t come here to take apart his post point by point-as much fun as that would be. But a good deal of what he claims resulted from the Slams was going to happen, with or without them.

No, instead I’m here to gleefully accept a challenge from Gerry. To wit; his question of what would have happened if the Slams hadn’t been saved and died a quiet, merciful death?

Well, there’s no way I’m passing on something as fun as that. There are few things more fun than an alternate timeline story. So gauntlet laid down and happily accepted.

So here we go. Cue Rod Sterling Twilight Zone intro voice:

Imagine, if you will, a sport owned by the players and without made for TV events that only the rich can play…

Okay, the Slams are dead. So now what happens? Well first, let’ s look at what would not change.

The CTRS, Athlete funding, Olympic Trials events, Canada Cup and all the National, World and Olympic Championships are not going away. They all remain in place, untouched or affected by the demise of the Slams.

Why? because they are all the property of differing governing bodies and the World Curling Tour has no influence or direct tie in with them.

So what really would be different? Well in my version of an alternate timeline here’s all the changes-and they’re positive ones for everybody:

First: In the absence of those 8 little spiels, you suddenly have some teams twiddling their thumbs with nothing to do. So what do they do? Simple. They start entering regular tour events to fill the hole left by the departure of the Slams.

Why is this is a good thing? Because a lot of spiels are currently struggling to fill. But now you have idle teams fleshing out cashspiels across the country and strengthening them. Not only do the spiels fill but the competition improves. It also brings the fans-and their wallets-into the clubs (instead of growing the size of their butts in front of the boob tube), where that money is needed.

Of course those teams won’t get the country club conditions they’re used to. But a little dose of reality never hurts. In fact a refresher course on how to read, adapt and adjust to differing ice and stones might just make them better curlers. Plus conditions in clubs hosting events are a lot better and closer to those in the Slams then they would lead you to believe.

Need I mention teams would probably save some money? as you would have shorter events running over 4 days instead of having to give up an entire week just to play 4 games and out. Plus fans get to enjoy a more diverse group of teams and athletes, instead of the same old menu of Slam teams, with anywhere from 16-32 teams to watch and you will see some very different faces winning events as well. Putting an end to the false notion that there are only a few ‘good’ teams instead of the many which truly exist.

Let’s not forget to mention that having those teams come back into the fold eliminates the insulting categorizer: ‘Tier Two’. We now return to being what we truly are: competitive athletes all striving for success and improvement who are currently at best, semi-pro.

And no Slams won’t stop the Euro and Pacific Rim teams from coming here. Canada is still where the best training competition exists and there’s more money. So still your hearts boys and girls. You’ll still have Nicolas Edin and Eve Muirhead to drool over.

Second: Gerry made a big claim about the Slams stimulating increased Sponsorship money in the game-for teams and events.

Well to quote Alec Baldwin from Pearl Harbor; “that’s bullshit son, but it’s very good bullshit”

The truth of Gerry’s statement is that sponsor money has increased but the reality is the Slams had very little, if anything, to do with it. No, you can thank the Winter Olympics for all the new money. Being associated with the marketing monster that is the IOC is what attracts the business people, not 8 little cashspiels on an obscure Canadian cable sports channel. Take away Olympic Medal Status and all that money goes away, probably completely. Make no mistake dear reader, the credit goes to the Olympics, not the Slams.

And while we’re on the subject of money, let’s remember that the majority of this influx of sponsor cash is being sucked up by Sportsnet.

So let’s accept the fact that Sportsnet saw an opportunity to capitalize on Canada’s obsession with Olympic curling medals (because, truthfully, you all think we have some sort of manifest destiny lock on the damn things) and like a pack of wolves they pounced on the weak member of the curling event herd: the WCT and the Slams.

I don’t like that a TV network owns a big part of the tour, but the Marketing Grad in me can appreciate a smart move on their part. Now they can call the shots and keep the majority of the profits (presuming there are any). You can’t get mad at them. It was ultimately our fault for doing such a piss-poor job of negotiating in the first place.

But all this aside, if there were no Slams, what would happen to the sponsor money?

Well, It would still be there-because of the Olympics. But far more of it would be going into the pockets of teams, tour events, the clubs who run them and the WCT itself. Now granted there would be a massive learning curve as this group figured out how things work and grew in their own marketing expertise. And don’t be fooled. There would be many failures as well as successes. But ultimately we would learn and this keeps the WCT where it belongs (just like the PGA): in the hands of the players and not a network.

In fact, if you study the PGA as a model, you see the WCT actually becoming what it needs to be to survive. A true business unto itself with the financial power to control, influence and protect the game it represents. Which leads me to the next point.

Third, what happens to all that TV coverage we have with the Slams? Of course we lose that coverage, but only for a short period of time. Why?

Because nature abhors a vacuum. That’s why.

You have 3 networks (CBC, TSN and Sportsnet) all looking for time to be filled with a reasonable expectation of decent viewership numbers to appeal to advertisers. Are they going to land those customers with endless hours of Texas Hold ‘Em? or Darts?

No. They need a sport with a solid, dedicated and Canadian fan base. And other than hockey what winter team sport fits the bill better than curling? With the Slams gone and coverage of the other major events locked up for a few years what do the networks have to fill that air time?

Why the remaining, existing tour events of course.

Now, I can already hear the arguments about how difficult club conditions can be for TV crews. Bull.

Continued advancements in technology make broadcasting from club venues easier and more lucrative every season. Many clubs now have their own, high definition closed circuit video systems to give fans overhead views of the rings at the away end. All accomplished with tiny little fixed cameras and not huge overhead rigs. The days of multiple, 53-foot trailers filling your parking lot to broadcast a game is long gone. Set-up, for example, is accomplished in hours now, not days.

So with the technological hurdle out of the way you can bring those non-arena events into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Canuck. Plus, you eventually get the networks bidding for the broadcast rights under terms dictated by the WCT instead of the other way around. More money goes into the coffers of the club hosting the event and the tour governing body as a result and there will cease to be events paying networks to cover them and not allowing local sponsorship advertising to be on the ice surface.

What if an event grows in such stature and attendance that it outgrows a curling club? Then the hosts have the opportunity to look at supplementing the event by moving into a suitable arena. So you now have events growing into Slams all by themselves, but in a more natural transition as opposed to the force-fed manner which currently exists and continues to result in one third (if that) full venues with lots of empty seats.

So how does a network benefit? Simple. They still get their air time filled with a popular, viewer drawing sport with sponsor revenue and they aren’t footing a much more massive bill then they currently are by propping up 8 events. Sure seems like a win-win to me.

In the end the truth is simple: the power, and money, shifts back from the network back to where it belongs: the game. It means a slower growth but more athletes, clubs, events and the tour benefit as a result and it’s for the long term. Just like-as I like to point out-the PGA did.

Now, where did I park my Delorean? I need to jump back 5 years and have a chat with the WCT before they sign that contract.





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