Behind the Game: Saving Edmonton’s Shamrock Curling Club and growing the sport

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WATCH ABOVE: The Shamrock Curling Club was losing money for about 10 years from 2003 to 2013. Now the club is thriving and getting younger athletes on the pebbled ice. In this week’s Behind the Game, Quinn Phillips chats with general manager Chris McTavish who was a driving force behind turning things around.

The Shamrock Curling Club in south Edmonton was losing money from 2003 to 2013.

That’s when its general manager Chris McTavish and his fellow board members took action to try and bring in more curlers and a younger crowd.

“Aging curlers were familiar with a traditional eight-end game,” McTavish said. “But we found a lot of younger people, who were just maybe students or just getting in the job market, they didn’t have that kind of time to invest in an evening, especially if they have young kids.

“So what we tried to do is make the game shorter and that made a huge difference.”

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Now the weekday curlers gather to play six ends rather than eight. The average age of those athletes is about 30 years old, which McTavish says is much younger than the players at a lot of curling clubs that have stayed with a more traditional model.

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“What we were trying to do then is to try and attract people to come out and enjoy a social activity with friends,” McTavish said. “We elevated the lounge offerings, we elevated the food offerings. We tried to make it not solely about the sport of curling itself, but the social experience associated with curling.”

The club has been turning a profit which has enabled it to replace the roof, paint the exterior and improve other parts of the infrastructure. It has done such a good job that Curling Canada invited McTavish to speak at a national symposium.

“There’s a lot of curling clubs across Canada that are struggling to fill their buildings,” said McTavish. “The Shamrock was seen as somewhat of a success story, and so I was honoured to come and share some of the experiences of what the team here at the Shamrock is doing.

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“A lot of curling clubs had questions about it and I’ve been hearing from them, they’ve been emailing me, and they’re trying to implement some of those program changes as well.”