Wed, March 1, 2006
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA,
FREE PRESS SPORTS COLUMNIST
Only the final numbers are still to come.
But organizers of the Scott Tournament of Hearts have done all they can to show the Canadian Curling Association London is capable of holding major curling events.
And they intend to begin their quest for those events even before this week is over.
With five days left in this tournament, impressive attendance figures will go a long way in convincing the powers that bestow such events that London can hold both the Brier, the men’s national championship, and the Olympic trials.
But even if the attendance stays where it is, London has passed the test. The chameleon — the John Labatt Centre — has come through again. It morphs between hockey arena, theatre, concert hall and monster truck venue. But this is the first time it’s turned into a curling venue and the transfiguration has been highly successful.
Four pads allow for good sight lines. The ice-making system allows for excellent ice, producing good curling.
Not that there was much question about the building being suited for this type of event. That was the only real no-brainer in all this.
The big question was the salability of this event. Of the three major championships, the Scott is the toughest sell. When Peter Inch sold the CCA on bringing it to London, he knew he faced a challenge.
“I went to curling clubs all over Ontario and told them about this event,” Inch said. “I told them you may not want to come, but you’ll know where it is.”
The results of the big sell have been more than $1 million in ticket revenue and a projected attendance of about 120,000. Inch says walkup sales have been brisk and the semifinals and final are almost sold out.
London got this event at a good time. Women’s curling is becoming a better attraction with the big names along with a crop of promising young, marketable and capable talent.
Financially, the event has done what it was supposed to do. But there’s more to this than simply dollars and cents. It’s about proving that logistically a major curling event can be held here.
So far, the building has proved itself and the ticket sales have been good enough. More than 4,000 tickets were sold for yesterday morning’s draw. The afternoon draw sold 3,883 tickets with most of the ticketholders in attendance.
A difference between seats sold and bums in seats is not unusual in early draws of curling events. Inch said last year’s event in St. John’s, Nfld., had a quarter of the people sitting in the seats.
“I see empty seats, but I know they’ve been sold.”
The curling has been excellent and the event has been a pleasure to attend. Whatever complaining is being done, if any, is being done quietly.
There have been no major glitches that anyone has heard about.
Inch, chairperson of the London Tournament of Hearts committee, hopes to meet tomorrow with Warren Hansen, CCA manager of event operations, and let him know he wants to bring major curling event No. 2 to London.
“That would be the Brier or the Olympic curling trials,” Inch said. “I’ve always said you’ve got to prove yourself. We held the seniors event and then bid for the Hearts. We’ve proved ourselves with the Hearts and now we can bid for one of the other events.”
While things have gone remarkably smoothly this week, there are some problems that will need correcting before the Brier comes here and it isn’t the size of the JLC. This year’s Brier is in Regina at a venue that’s smaller than the JLC.
Organizers hoping to bring the Brier here will have to find a solution to the Brier Patch, the huge moneymaking party room usually held in the same building as the event. Organizers of the HeartStop Lounge had to put it blocks away at the convention centre and attendance has been spotty.
Fix that obstacle and London’s ready to do this again.