Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba curling gets whopping TV boost

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Curl Manitoba is preparing to announce, possibly as early as this morning, a historic new 10-year broadcasting agreement with Sportsnet that will put the Manitoba provincial curling championships on the national stage like never before and for the first time ensure that women's curling in this province consistently receives the same exposure as the men's game gets.

Sources indicated this week that the agreement calls for Sportsnet to annually broadcast at least three games -- including the finals -- from the Manitoba men's and the Manitoba women's provincial championships.

The agreement calls for the games to be aired on either Sportsnet West or Sportsnet One, beginning with the 2013 Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts from Stonewall and the 2013 Safeway Championship from Neepawa.

"Wow! That's awesome news," Winnipeg's Jeff Stoughton exclaimed when informed of the news Wednesday afternoon. "That's more exposure for everyone."

Discussions continue on an announcing crew, but the expectation is the announcers will be from Manitoba. While the agreement is for 10 years, there are options for either party to opt out prior to that.

Shaw TV had been broadcasting the Safeway Championship since 2008, when longtime broadcast partner Global stepped aside. The provincial Scotties has never been regularly televised -- and not at all in either of the last two years.

The agreement is a huge coup for Curl Manitoba, which trades in a local community access network for the second biggest commercial sports network in the country. As part of the agreement, Curl Manitoba will also receive some of the inventory of commercial time for the events, which they can then sell themselves or use towards sponsorship fulfillment.

An agreement with Safeway as the title sponsor of the Manitoba men's curling championship is in its final season, but sources indicate that in the wake of the new Sportsnet agreement, finishing touches are being put on a new three-year contract extension with Safeway that would see the supermarket continue as the title sponsor of Manitoba men's curling through 2016.

Sportsnet, meantime, gets two valuable new curling properties to add to the ownership they recently acquired of the elite cashpiel circuit, the Grand Slam of Curling. The broadcaster announced recently that they will operate and broadcast three Slam events this winter, hopefully expanding to four events by next winter.

Executives with the Toronto-based network appear to be embarking on a renewed strategy to challenge TSN's virtual monopoly as the country's curling broadcaster. In addition to the newly acquired rights to the two Manitoba curling championships, sources indicate Sportsnet is also in negotiations with other provinces for the broadcast rights to their provincial championships.

The initiative could prove prescient. With the NHL currently in a lockout and with no end in sight, curling as a broadcast property has the potential to fill hours of unused broadcast space this winter.

Curl Manitoba executive director Shane Ray refused to comment on the Sportsnet deal when contacted on Wednesday. But the organization does have a news conference scheduled for this morning at which they will unveil details of the upcoming new season. Sources indicated the organization could announce the deal as early as this morning or wait to make an announcement jointly with Sportsnet at a later date.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2012 C2

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