As curling heats up, eyeball wars in the offing

CBC and TSN are divvying up broadcast rights to curling in the lead-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics.

TSN and CBC currently share the broadcast rights for the Canadian Curling Association’s Season of Champions events, which are enjoying growth over last year’s audience numbers leading up to April’s championships. TSN essentially airs curling weekdays, while CBC airs semi-finals and finals on the weekend. But in Nov. 2008, TSN’s six-year multiplatform rights deal with the association takes effect, making all Season of Champions curling events exclusive to that net leading up to the Olympics. The CBC, in a bid to continue its coverage beyond this time next year, is phasing in its coverage of the World Curling Tour, for which it’s got an eight-year deal with Toronto-based Insight Sports.

CBC Sports executive director Scott Moore tells MiC that, despite changes to the net’s curling schedule in fall 2008, it ‘doesn’t mean we’re out of the curling business by any stretch of the imagination. We’re open for business.’ Moore says the pubcaster will do a minimum of four to five major events per year, working in conjunction with Insight Sports to create integrated sponsorship packages for marketers, rather than simply selling on-air spots.

‘There’s a myth with curling that it just attracts an older audience,’ says Moore. ‘There’s a younger audience that’s interested in curling and it’s a very passionate audience. It’s a hidden opportunity for marketers, seeing past that myth to a wide variety of demographics.’

The Canadian Curling Association’s future with TSN takes with it the following events: The Tim Hortons Brier, Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Ford World Championships (mens’ and womens’), the M&M Meat Shops Canadian Juniors, the Continental Cup of Curling, and the Strauss Canada Cup of curling. Tim Hortons has also got its name on the Canadian Curling Trials, the elite 2009 competition that will decide what curlers represent Canada at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver 2010. TSN’s deal includes broadband, mobile, VOD, interactive TV, podcasts and radio, and the net intends to leverage the rights in building the sport’s audience.

Meanwhile Insight Sports is building sponsors into its curling properties by integrating clients into TV coverage, web and venue-based promotions (such as rink boards, in-ice branding and product sampling). This week, Insight Sports announced that Tylenol would become the title sponsor for its Players’ Championship in Calgary, resulting in presence on, which it owns, and partner CBC Sports will air the Tylenol Players’ Championship women’s final at 3 pm ET and the mens’ final at Sunday, April 15th at 2 pm ET. Other Grand Slam of Curling events include the Home Hardware Masters of Curling (Kitchener-Waterloo, ON), the BDO Classic Canadian Open of Curling (Winnipeg, MB), The National (Port Hawkesbury, NS). Insight Sports also operates three specialty television nets (Casino and Gaming Television, 24-hour soccer net GOLTV, and the World Fishing Network) and holds an interest in the NHL Network.

Last month’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts (women’s national championship) delivered a national average of 320,000 viewers to TSN, an increase of about 1% over last year. On CBC, the Scotties finals averaged 873,000 viewers, down 4% from 2006′s average audience. This month, the Tim Horton’s Brier (men’s national championship) aired live on TSN drew an average audience of 443,000, up 2% from last year. On CBC, the Tim Horton’s Brier finals averaged 1.2 million viewers, up 19% from 2006. The coverage put CBC on the BBM’s Top 30 for that week (click here for MiC‘s coverage) for a time slot stretching from 6:30 pm to 10 pm. And last weekend, the Strauss Canada Cup of Curling women’s finals on CBC averaged 435,000 viewers – 34% higher than last year’s event.

Next up, CBC Sports will air the World Women’s Curling Championship semi-final and finals on March 24 and 25. TSN will pick up the Ford World Men’s Curling Championship from March 31 to April 6. Like the earlier Scotties and Tim Hortons sponsored events, the TSN broadcasts feature two-draw daily coverage (afternoon and evening) and the Page Playoffs. The April 7 bronze medal and the April 8 gold medal draws will air on CBC Sports. Then, the pubcaster will turn its attention to Insight Sports’ Grand Slam Curling Tour, a part of the World Curling Tour.