Kevin Martin’s team has been touring the country as rock stars after winning their Curling Olympic Gold Medals. This weekend they are in Halifax, Nova Scotia and autograph seekers are waiting in long line-ups just for the chance to have something signed. There is one other event going on in Halifax this week: The Brier – The Canadian Men’s Curling Championship. An event that Martin’s team is not competing in.
Curling has never had as much exposure as it had at the Olympics with up to 6.9 million people in Canada watching a portion of the Gold Medal game from Vancouver during the Olympics. People who have never tried Curling across Canada and the United States are visiting Curling clubs to give the sport a try after becoming interested from watching the hours of coverage available during the Winter Games. The Brier could capitalize on the enthusiasm with thousands of new viewers tuning in looking to get their Curling fix only a short week after Canada’s Gold Medal victory. This new and less Curling savvy audience will likely be tuning in to see Kevin Martin and his team of John Morris, Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert compete against the best Men’s teams from Canada. The sad thing is that they won’t see his team there because of the Canadian Curling Association’s (CCA) choice to not give the defending champion a bye to the Brier like they do for the women at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
Kevin Martin chose not to play in Alberta playdowns after winning the Canadian Olympic Trials in order to focus on winning Gold in Vancouver. In order to play in the Alberta Championship, his team would have had to play up until the day before departing for Vancouver which undoubtedly would have left them fatigued heading into the Olympics. Very few people could have questioned the choice to only focus on the Olympics. Martin’s team is the first Brier champion to win Olympic Trials in the same year. But, the CCA should have known this was inevitably going to happen. The year long marketing possibilities that are being missed by not having the returning champion participating are huge and the fact that you have an Olympic Gold Medalist signing autographs instead of playing is even greater.
Men’s Curling can learn something from Women’s Curling and Scott Paper. Having the defending champion return to the Canadian Championship has worked well for the women and can work just as well for the men. It’s time the CCA made the change, especially this year with the best and most recognizable team in the world not throwing a single stone.