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‘We’re not a sports bar’: Canadian curling clubs blast cable bill hike

Canadian curling clubs fight back against cable bill hike
WATCH ABOVE: Curling clubs across the country are fighting back over a cable bill hike from the country's top sports channels. Kent Morrison explains what's behind the hike and why the clubs don't think it's fair.

“A real punch to the gut” and “cost prohibitive” is the reaction of curling clubs that will pay hundreds of dollars more to show sports on their lounge televisions.

The parent companies of TSN and Sportsnet, which broadcast a lot of curling, are charging licensed establishments with a capacity over 100 people more for both sports networks.

For the Mayflower Curling Club in Halifax, that’s an extra $450 a month. For the Shamrock Curling Club in Edmonton, it’s an increase from $900 to $4,200 per year. For Edmonton’s Crestwood Curling Club, it’s an additional of $2,100 a year.

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“Such a sharp increase like this is a real punch to the gut,” Shamrock general manager Chris McTavish said.

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If it doesn’t sound like a lot of money, Mayflower general manager Melanie Hughes says it would take nine new memberships to cover the additional $3,150 cost for a seven-month curling season.

“That’s cost prohibitive for us,” Hughes said.

“It’s tough to get members. People don’t have a lot of disposal income to spend on recreation as great as it is.”

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Montague Curling Club GM Larry Richards says the Prince Edward Island club can’t afford the extra $300 a month and thus won’t have cable sports on its televisions next winter.

Ottawa Curling Club board vice-president Eddie Chow said it would be difficult to axe their sports cable package. Canadian and world champion Rachel Homan curls out of the OCC and members would be upset they couldn’t watch the team on television at their own club, he said.

Curling Canada has launched a #NotASportsBar social media campaign encouraging curlers to contact Bell Media, Rogers Communications and Canada’s Minister of Sport Carla Qualtrough and tell them clubs are not the same public bars looking to make a profit.

It’s an interesting position for Curling Canada to take given that TSN, a Bell Media network, is the rightsholder for Curling Canada’s major tournaments, including the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Tim Hortons Brier.

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Sportsnet, a division of Rogers Communications, has the rights to the World Curling Tour’s $2-million Grand Slam of Curling.

“It’s delicate, is the way I would put it,” Curling Canada chief executive officer Katherine Henderson said.

“They’ve been very fine partners of ours and to curling in the past. They’ve enjoyed a lot of benefit from curling as well, the tremendous amount of benefit and goodwill they get from our curling fans.”

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Henderson says she understands why Rogers and Bell are seeking more money from sports bars that use live sports programming as a way to increase profits.

“My argument is ‘we’re not a sports bar,'” she said.

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Henderson says she has spoken to both Bell and Rogers about consideration for curling clubs.

“We understand that not all establishments with a liquor license are the same, just like not all curling clubs are the same,” Sportsnet director of communications Jordan Kerbel said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

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“Curling Canada has expressed a legitimate concern and we’ve reached out to them to discuss opportunities for their members. We look forward to working with them to find a solution.”

Bell Media spokesman Marc Choma said in an e-mail that “any establishment with questions about their sports packages should contact one of our agents to discuss.”

“Changes to sports rates packages are based on the type of liquor license an establishment has, rather than the type of establishment itself,” Choma wrote.

“Other factors, such as viewing capacity vs. total seating capacity are also considered.”

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The primary argument of curling clubs against the increase is that they’re not-for-profit entities that must funnel revenue back into the club, as opposed to sports bars whose owners pocket profit.

People don’t go to curling clubs to watch sports, points out Crestwood GM Darcy Hyde. Live sports on lounge televisions may enhance curlers’ post-game socializing, but it’s not a money maker, he said.

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A Yazidi refugee from Kurdistan falls over after throwing a rock as she learns the sport of curling at the Royal Canadian Curling Club during an event put on by the "Together Project", in Toronto, March 15, 2017.
A Yazidi refugee from Kurdistan falls over after throwing a rock as she learns the sport of curling at the Royal Canadian Curling Club during an event put on by the "Together Project", in Toronto, March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
A refugee family from Afghanistan are introduced to the sport of curling at the Royal Canadian Curling Club during an event put on by the "Together Project", in Toronto, March 15, 2017.    REUTERS/Mark Blinch
A refugee family from Afghanistan are introduced to the sport of curling at the Royal Canadian Curling Club during an event put on by the "Together Project", in Toronto, March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
A refugee family from Afghanistan sweeps on the ice as they are introduced to the sport of curling at the Royal Canadian Curling Club during an event put on by the "Together Project", in Toronto, March 15, 2017.    REUTERS/Mark Blinch
A refugee family from Afghanistan sweeps on the ice as they are introduced to the sport of curling at the Royal Canadian Curling Club during an event put on by the "Together Project", in Toronto, March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
Refugees take to the ice as they are introduced to the sport of curling at the Royal Canadian Curling Club during an event put on by the "Together Project", in Toronto, March 15, 2017.   REUTERS/Mark Blinch
Refugees take to the ice as they are introduced to the sport of curling at the Royal Canadian Curling Club during an event put on by the "Together Project", in Toronto, March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

“We don’t have people that walk into our building to come and watch sports on TV,” Hyde explained. “Even our own curlers don’t come to the club on a night where they’re not curling to watch sports.

“After curling, they’ll have a drink, maybe two drinks and then they leave.”

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Clubs that are part of larger recreation or athletic centres are better able to absorb the increased cost because of revenue from user fees.

But there are many stand-alone curling clubs across the country without that cushion.

McTavish says curling club operators in his area are considering canning their sports cable packages in a group effort to lobby Bell and Rogers.

Hughes cancelled the Mayflower’s cable sports and is considering activating it only during the Scotties and the Brier.

“That’s the only solution we’ve come to so far,” she said.

“It’s silly for our curling club not to be able to show that kind of curling, but it will be an extra cost for us.”

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