Wondering how local curling clubs are managing during the pandemic?
That’s exactly what the Winnipeg Curling Club Association executive wanted to find out. The WCCA recently sent out a survey to 12 Winnipeg-area curling clubs to gauge their efforts during the pandemic and the early returns have been fairly predictable.
COVID-19 restrictions have helped to deal a heavy blow to the numbers of people curling and, in turn, the money they’re spending in the lounges and restaurants.
"The general takeaway is it's certainly impacted the curling clubs," said WCCA secretary Paul Batchelor, a past president at Assiniboine Memorial. "The daytime curling, which is mostly the senior demographic, is doing quite well. Which is ironic given the fact that us old guys are the most vulnerable, but I think it's a case of doing something in the winter when you can't go south, etcetera.
"So the daytime (activity) at most clubs is really no change from previous years of any significance. The evening, on the other hand, which is typically your men's leagues and your business ladies and that sort of focus, lost a few teams at various clubs."
Some clubs have been harder hit in certain areas. Assiniboine Memorial manager Jody Smart reports her club lost three longtime rental leagues and all of its business on Saturday mornings, including four sheets at 8 a.m. and six more at 10:30 a.m., for the 2020-21 season.
Smart remains hopeful those leagues will return after the pandemic.
In curling club lounges and restaurants, the financial blow has been tougher since government regulations mandating last call at 10 p.m. and drinks off the tables and patrons out of the clubroom by 11 p.m.
WCCA president Jason Shymanski said this is where the survey, which is due from one remaining club at the end of the week, can serve a valuable function.
"We share operating procedures and this was one classic example where it was invaluable," said Shymanski. "When we were about to shut down in the spring, nobody knew — should we shut down or should we not shut down? What are we doing? We were doing the same type of thing; we were canvassing and surveying the clubs.
"So this survey helps for a few reasons. It helps us all as Winnipeg clubs feel like we're all together. If there's little, subtle things that we can do or change or modify to try and make our members and the public feel more at ease. It's everything from waivers to should you wear masks in the buildings? Should you not wear masks? Should you open the locker room? Should you open the restaurant in the bar or not? That kind of thing."
There's also an opportunity to promote the game as a safe alternative to other activities.
"A lot of the executives at a lot of other clubs are saying to people, 'Listen, this is one of the few sports you can do right now There's no guarantees anywhere. You can catch COVID anywhere. You can catch it in a supermarket and catch it in your house if someone comes back into your household and has it,'" said Shymanski, who also serves as secretary of the Fort Garry Curling Club.
"It's one of the few sporting, recreation activities that we can probably do."
Shymanski said the WCCA plans to share the survey results with Curl Manitoba. The WCCA has employed tips from other jurisdictions from across Canada.
Before the spike in local COVID-19 cases in recent months, Shymanski hoped for increased participation from an older demographic.
"So this survey helps for a few reasons. It helps us all as Winnipeg clubs feel like we're all together." ‐ WCCA president Jason Shymanski
"We thought there might be a huge influx of interest back in the curling and there was some interest in our club and it was growing," he said. "But unfortunately, with the huge case numbers that started getting released, as soon we started to see double-digit cases released, nevermind in the 70s, I think people got scared."
Batchelor believes the curling clubs can weather the economic ravages of the pandemic.
"Financially, the clubs are fairly solid to start with," said Batchelor. "They should be able to get through this — not to say I can speak for the other clubs. All things being equal there shouldn't be any issues getting through the season. They won't be quite as good as it was in the past, obviously, but I don't see any need to close any doors just yet."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.