By Rob Gordon
OMAHA, NEBRASKA – The second leg of the new Curling World Cup series is being held in Omaha, Nebraska at the beautiful Ralston Arena. The event tagline boasts “The Greatest Collide” as 10 of the "top curling nations" compete under one roof. Exciting, right? So why is a building that can seat up to 4,400 people struggling to sell enough tickets to fill just one section? The easy answer is that Omaha – and the United States in general – hasn’t adopted the game of curling yet... and while that might play a role in the lack of spectators, I believe the problem goes much deeper.
There are a few things working against the event here in Omaha. Certainly, location has played a part in reduced ticket sales, but what spectators here lack in quantity, they make up for in quality. The American fans are a passionate group who love cheering on their home teams. A chorus of a few dozen can be heard chanting “USA! USA! USA!” anytime Jamie Sinclair makes a clutch shot, or John Shuster makes a game-winning takeout.
Another detriment to ticket sales is the event itself. The Curling World Cup is such a new entity that no one quite knows what to make of it. If the avid curling fan is confused, getting the general public to be interested is nothing short of an uphill battle. An established event such as the U.S Nationals or U.S Olympic Trials might have more success selling tickets simply because it is somewhat familiar to the average viewer.
The format of the event also seems to be stunting potential attendance growth. The event runs as a double round robin with two pools, meaning each team plays the other teams in their pool twice. As a spectator, if I have seen Canada play China once already, I probably wouldn’t pay to see them play each other again. However, if this event ran as a full round robin with all eight teams there would be more compelling matchups. They could structure the draw to have marquee matchups in the evening to boost ticket sales.
The fact that Team Shuster and Team Edin are both in this event but can only play each other if they both make the final, is a travesty. The format of the event robbed local fans of the opportunity of watching a rematch of the 2018 Olympic final between USA and Sweden on American soil. Imagine the marketing potential? Put them out on sheet C on the Friday night draw and see how many fans filter through those doors! The World Curling Federation missed the boat on this one.
However, low attendance is not just an Omaha problem or a Curling World Cup problem. Putting butts in seats at curling events has been an issue for a while now. When the Canadian Olympic Trials struggles to sell tickets, that’s when you know there is a problem. One year ago, many of the midweek games in Ottawa were played in front of a few thousand spectators, which looked horrible in an NHL-sized arena. Moving the Brier to smaller venues like Brandon and Kingston is a great idea by Curling Canada, but it doesn’t solve the underlying issue of the drop in attendance over the years.
The fact is, we live in a fast-paced world – a world of Twitter, Instagram and instant gratification. It seems the younger generation (my generation) does not have the patience to watch a slow-paced game like curling, and not enough free time to devote to sitting through a three-hour match. Curling is running into the same problem golf has been dealing with; spending five hours on a golf course is less feasible as it once was. Is spending three hours watching a live curling match becoming less feasible in today’s world? If you subscribe to The Curling News, you know that this position has been taken rather loudly by columnist Warren Hansen, who used to run competitions for Curling Canada.
So how do we get more fans in the seats? Do we need Vegas showgirls marking the score at every event, like at the Continental Cup? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do see this issue becoming an increasing problem in the future.