New Curling Skins Game Format is Great

Curling entered into new territory last weekend when it held its first “All Star Weekend”. The four major American sports have held All Star Games for decades, with success ranging from great (MLB) to terrible (NFL). Even NASCAR has held an All Star Race for close to thirty years, not that it’s entirely different from any other NASCAR Race. In my opinion, the first Curling All Star Skins Game, held at Casino Rama, was more exciting than any of the traditional All Star Games in North American sports.

There are many reasons why an All Star format works in curling. The curlers all know each other because they play in the same tournaments some 10-15 weeks a year. In that sense it’s not unlike the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup in golf, where athletes who usually compete against each other player together. It also works because there is very little chance of injury in curling, compared to any of the four major American sports, really. It also has a unique history in that the Curling Skins Game at Casino Rama was already one of the most prestigious curling events in the world before it introduced All Star format in 2013.

Money is also important. The purse at the Skins Game was $100, 000, which the same as the purse at this weekend’s Grand Slam. That makes it one of the richest curling events in the world. Glenn Howard’s All Star team, who were champions, won $51, 000. At the last Grand Slam in December, Howard’s usual team won $25, 000 as champions. The Curling All Star Game is big money for the sixteen curling who make it. They all want to win.

While the All Star format was first revealed during the 2012 Skins Game final, the idea of a draft was only introduced earlier this month. TSN adopted the idea from the NHL All Star Game draft, which is wildly popular among fans and players. It worked a lot better than a random draw would have. It was fun TV to watch. It gave viewers a glimpse at curlers off the ice. And, most importantly, it allowed the skips to choose players who they’d always wanted to play with.

The new format also saw the Skins Game get a bump in TV ratings as well, despite going against record-setting NHL games most of the weekend. An average 330, 000 watched the first semi final on Saturday afternoon, while an average of 308, 000 watched the second semi final Saturday night. The Saturday night number is particularly impressive when you consider that an average of 4.6 million others were watching the Leafs-Habs game at the same time. An average of 403, 000 watched Sunday’s final, which also went head-to-head with an NHL game on NBC. The three games averaged 347, 000 viewers, which is an 9% increase over last season.

This was the last year for the Skins Game at Casino Rama. With a new venue next year, maybe TSN will want to consider a few new ideas for the event. At some point I’d like to see it as a mixed All Star game. Just once to see how the idea works. The mixed skins at the Continental Cup is really the only thing that saves that event. I’d also like to see international curling including in the voting. While Canadians would likely win the spots, Niklas Edin’s team is one of the best in the world and they at least deserve a shot. And how about a “skills competition”  (similar to singles at the Continental Cup) on Friday night? It would give TSN another night of programming, and it would also give the new teammates a chance to play with each other before playing for more money on Saturday.

Curling Grand Slam… Similar to the way TSN built the Curling Skins Game, Sportsnet has done a great job rebuilding the Grand Slam this year. The foundation was obviously already there, and had been for a several years. However, it was in shambles after the television contract with the CBC fell apart a year ago. Last season’s The National wasn’t broadcast on Canadian television at all. A year later Sportsnet has some 22 hours of coverage of this weekend’s event. Curling fans have always said the sport has a lot of room to grow on Canadian TV, and we are seeing that this year.

Which leads me to…

Provincial Championships… Sportsnet is also showing the Scotties playdowns in Manitoba, Alberta and Ontario to a national audience for the first time. They also have Brier playdowns in those provinces in a couple of weeks. It is really unheard of for a network to cover four curling events in one weekend, but Sportsnet is doing so this weekend. Rob Faulds, Mike Harris and Richard Hart are in Port Hawkesbury for The National; Don Landry and Paul Webster are in Lethbridge for the Alberta Scotties; Roger Millions and Joan McCusker are in Stonewall for the Manitoba Scotties; and Dan Dunleavy is in Kitchener for the Ontario Scotties.

Here is the complete Scotties playdowns schedule for Sportsnet and Citytv
Saturday 1/26, 9:30pm – Manitoba Semifinal #1 (Sportsnet West/Pacific; Citytv Winnipeg)
Sunday 1/27, 9:30am – Ontario Semifinal (Sportsnet National)
Sunday 1/27, 1:00pm – Manitoba Semifinal #2 (Sportsnet ONE; Citytv Winnipeg)
Sunday 1/27, 4:00pm – Ontario Championship (Sportsnet Ontario)
Sunday 1/27, 4:00pm – Alberta Championship (Sportsnet West/Pacific; Citytv Alberta)
Sunday 1/27, 6:00pm – Manitoba Championship (Sportsnet ONE)

I guess The Biggest Loser takes precedence over the Manitoba Final for Citytv Winnipeg.

Dodgers New TV Deal… The Los Angeles Dodgers have signed a new local broadcast contract to show the team’s games for two decades beginning next (2014) season. Time Warner will pay $7 billion for the rights, that’s a whole billion more than Fox Sports was willing to pay. It’s not good news for Fox’s channel Prime Ticket, which already lost local L.A. Lakers rights to Time Warner’s new sports channel last year. Steve Ladurantaye of The Globe and Mail has a comparison of the new Dodgers TV deal and the Blue Jays TV deal. The Jays are experiencing big TV ratings gains, which should increase again this year with the hype surrounding the team; however, they probably won’t cash in on their new TV deal anyway.

Sun News… As many may have noticed, Sun News Channel has asked the CRTC to place it on the basic cable section of the dial, forcing everyone to carry it. This is similar to what CBC Newsworld and CTV News Network asked for when they launched 24 and 16 years ago, respectively. Obviously many things have changed in cable and satellite broadcasting since. I thought Andrew Coyne’s take on this was great. This is a great opportunity for the CRTC to remove the must-subscribe designation from all cable services. And, of course, the other aspect of the story is that Sun said they’d never ask for basic cable carriage because it “would be tantamount to a tax on everyone with cable or satellite service.” Oh, the hypocrisy.

The Hahnenkamm… One could argue that the original extreme winter sport is the Kitzbuhel Downhill. The classic ski race was first run more than 80 years ago in 1931. CBC will broadcast the 2012 Downhill on Saturday at 4:00pm ET. And trust me, it is worth watching.  I won’t spoil the result, but Canada’s Erik Guay had a very good day. will stream Sunday’s Slalom, with the second run at 7:25am ET. Friday’s Super-G isn’t on Canadian television.