Friday, January 14, 2011

Live (nearly) from the Continental Cup

Let me start with the apology, for those who actually follow my regular blog.  I have pages of notes from the first 3 major events of the year, but have yet to produce a new article.  I should have some analysis out very soon, but for this weekend I have other duties.  And my feelings are very mixed.

I live in St. Albert and can tricycle to this event.  I’ve never been a fan and don’t actually recall ever watching more than a few ends of the “Ryder Cup of Curling” in its first 6 iterations.  My parents even lived in Medicine Hat when it was the host city and I never bothered to make the trip, despite living in Calgary at the time.

But after dropping in at Performance Arena (aka Servus Place) for the evening draw opening day, I am trying to feel a little different.  I am on a quest to find the appeal of this event, despite its obvious (and not so obvious) flaws.  The Continental Cup has struggled to gain traction from fans and sponsors over the years, and oddly I’m (sort of) looking forward to this weekend.  Perhaps I can gain some insight as to why it struggles and possibly examine how it can gain the international attention that perhaps it could bring to the roaring game.  Or at the very least, I can polish off a few in the Keith’s Patch while my 7 year old plays indoor soccer in the same building this weekend.

Some impressions:

Walking in, playing in my head, or was it out loud, was the old Hockey Night in Canada Theme (apologies to CBC as I know this is no longer the official name, but I don’t know it as another).  Strange.

Fan turnout was ok, lots of chairs appeared empty but there were many people standing around the top rail.  Still, it is a small venue and would be nice to fill the stands.  Perhaps $30 a draw and $69 a day is a little steep.  Or maybe 34 below and TSN coverage is keeping some at home.

The North American ladies started a cheer during the early ends.  It brought some mild enthusiasm from the fans, though it paled to my Olympic memories.  Perhaps it was the age difference in the stands or maybe the fact the actual cheer seemed more complicated than the format for this event.

Someone please tell me why you get 6 points for win (team competition)?  What’s wrong with 1?  Oh, that’s why…. Mixed doubles is also 6, single matches are 4 and Skins are, ahem, 20, 30 or 55 points!  I’m the numbers guy on this blog but damned if I have been able to figure out how this thing works without a detailed program and a financial calculator at my disposal.  If I can’t follow easily, how can the average fan who heads home to a VCR still flashing 12:00?  I’ve mentioned before the average age of the curling fan continues to rise and every effort should be made to make the format of this event as simple as possible for the senior crowd.  It is not.

What is “simple” about the structure is the fact a losing team can make a valiant comeback on Sunday and win.  In fact, with 400 points up for grabs, a NA or World team can be shut out for the first 2 days and still have a fighting chance on the weekend to win.  I understand why the points are heavily back-ended (260 of the 400 are “Skins” points, battled for during 4 of 5 weekend draws).  When you want to attract sponsors and gain traction with a new event, it is imperative to keep the fan interested to the bitter end.  As a fair method to determine the winner, or a way of simplifying things, this approach fails miserably.  Golf’s Ryder Cup had no fan interest for nearly 60 years.  Each match was worth one point, no more or less than any other.  If a team played very badly the first day (usually Great Britain) they lost, often by a landslide.  Only once the European teams began to win did the event take off and become what it is today.  The Continental Cup does not, I suspect, have the luxury of waiting 60 years.  It has created a structure as an attempt to build drama for the final day/draws and I believe with the exception of 1 year, has succeeded.  Yet I still struggle to find its appeal.

The players appear to enjoy this event and that means something.  The cameras need to try and capture as much of this as possible.  I noticed Blake MacDonald give Kevin Martin a big high five after the gold medal squad scored a three.  Granted, Kevin looked less coordinated than Tiger after his chip-in at the 16th during the 2005 Masters, but exciting nonetheless.

There is some controversy apparently on the restriction of the famous Norway trousers.  Can anyone tell me one good reason why those flashy Olympic pants that became a hit in Vancouver would be disallowed or not embraced by all of team Europe? I will provide more details as my investigation continues, but I expect this could be responsible for 10% drop off in attendance, if not more.

I got a chance to speak with Team NA coaches Rick Lang and Neil Harrison.  Perhaps two of the nicest guys in the history of curling.  I forgot to ask them about their strategy in this type of format.  Actually, I forgot to ask them if they understand how the scoring system works.  Hope they figure it out by Sunday….

Strategy appears interesting as it relates to singles and mixed doubles.  Mixed Doubles lacks the loud screams of "hurry hard" you hear in a regular game, but does give you an opportunity to nap during the afternoon. And for the life of me, I can’t watch a player jump up from their slide and run ahead to sweep the rock without recalling my days long ago in Winnipeg, practicing against my teammates…. when I  was 13!  It looks and feels strange.  With that many players on both sides, can’t they allow one sweeper?

Some of you may have seen the TSN camera crew spot me in the crowd during the 5th end of the evening draw.  It was fortunate for Randy Ferbey to be sitting next to me and gain some additional airtime,  including a plug for his local St Albert sports bar, “The Rink”.

Oh, and current results are North America leading 42 to 12.  Does it mean anything to you either?

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