It’s Time to Re-evaluate the Tim Hortons Brier Host City Criteria

This past Friday, one day before getting eliminated from Gold contention at the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier by the Brad Jacobs rink from Northern Ontario, 2006 Olympic Gold Medalist Brad Gushue of Team Newfoundland & Labrador turned to Twitter to tweet:

Gushue is referring to his hometown of St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador. And by harnessing the power of social media, Gushue’s tweet gained steam with over 400 retweets. But whether St. John’s is a worthy destination to host The Brier or not (I think it’d be a slam dunk), if you’ve followed The Brier in recent decades, you’d know that the idea of a city of St. John’s’ size (~100,000) hosting the event in 2015 (or 2016, or 2017) is pretty much a pipe dream due to arena size. In fact, the Canadian Curling Association’s (CCA) website confirms it:

  • Tim Hortons Brier (Canadian Men’s Championship – 12 teams)
    10,000 (minimum) seat arena with associated facilities:  One (1) facility in the 60,000 – 80,000 sq.ft. range and another facility in the 20 – 30,000 sq.ft. range.  Banquet facilities are required to host 700 – 1000 people.    The CCA must be confident that the site selected can be financially successful and that there will be civic and provincial support of the event.

Mile One Centre in St. John’s has a capacity of 6,287. The venue hosted the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in 2005, but that adds up. Because according to the same CCA website, Mile One fits the bill:

  • Scotties Tournament of Hearts (Canadian Women’s Championship – 12 teams)
    3,500 (minimum) – 5,000 (maximum) seat arena with an associated facility of approximately 30,000 sq.ft.  Banquet facilities for the Opening and Closing social events that can accommodate 600 – 800 people.

Curling is a big deal in this country, and The Brier is the crown jewel of the season. It attracts sold out crowds and high TV ratings. There was a time when a city such as St. John’s could host The Brier (and it did in 1972), but similar to the World Juniors, the event has gotten so popular that to maximize revenues it just makes sense to have it in the biggest venue possible every year.

But unlike the World Juniors, The Brier is held in Canada every year. It’s a Canadian event and involves all 10 provinces and the territories. And for that reason, I think it’s time for the CCA to rethink its bid criteria in order to allow a larger pool of cities (and provinces) the chance to host. A start could be to have the minimum requirement of a 5,000 seat arena instead of 10,000. For me, if a city’s bid meets key criteria (market size, capacity requirements, local government involvement, corporate support), and can at the very least make the case to break even, why create a 10,000 seat barrier to entry? My concern is that profitability has the potential to become the motivating factor in selecting a host. If that happens, maybe the host is on a rotational basis as is done with the Canada Games.

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Either way, for a smaller market, there’s a good chance that achieving profitability could require a degree of creativity on behalf of the organizers. But there are plenty of options. Maybe adopt tier ticket pricing. Or create a premium all access package where fans can meet curlers or have access to a lounge area during the event. That wouldn’t cost the organizers much extra money out of pocket, but it could lead to a sizeable amount as an additional revenue stream. And in markets where major national sporting events are few and far between (or non-existent), it’s not crazy to think that fans would be willing to shell out a few extra bucks on tickets to have an event of The Brier’s status roll into town. After all, it’s potentially a once in a lifetime chance for many local residents to see the best curlers in the country, and the world for that matter, live.

With that said, it seems as if things may be changing. Take 2014. Next year’s Brier will take place in Kamloops, BC. The Interior Savings Centre in Kamloops holds 5,658, far below the 10,000 seat minimum listed on the CCA website, and in line with my suggestion of a 5,000 seat minimum. I’m not sure how this happened because it’s certainly an anomaly considering it’s the smallest venue to host The Brier since Chicoutimi back in ’88. It could have something to do with the fact that 2014 is an Olympic year. Again, I’m not really sure. But a lot could hinge on Kamloops. Because if Kamloops is a success, it may open the door to cities such as St. John’s and other mid-size markets to host The Brier down the road.

It’s something that I’d love to see. And if it leads to a Brier being hosted on The Rock, I’m sure Brad Gushue would agree.

Adam Puddicombe is a weekly blog contributor to Sports Business Canada

Photo credit: Michael Burns, Canadian Curling Association (curling.ca)

Adam Puddicombe

Adam Puddicombe is a digital marketing professional who, by day, works in the ad agency world, and by night, covers the intersection of Canadian sports, media, and technology. Adam holds a degree in commerce, with a focus in marketing, and previously worked for Hockey Night in Canada’s Play On! and the St. John’s Fog Devils of the QMJHL. Follow him on Twitter @adampuddicombe.