Curling Canada exceeded their expectations in ticketed attendance for the 2018 Scotties Tournament of Hearts held in Penticton over 10 days.
Prior to the start of the Scotties, Curling Canada told the Western News they had a target set of 50,000 people in attendance, that goal was exceeded with a recorded 55,138 tickets dispersed. The largest crowd being the final with 3,840 people in attendance, according to the Curling Canada website.
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“We know that people still have work to do and may have purchased full event passes but still have day jobs they have to attend. There are sponsors that received tickets but still have to be at their workplace, so the morning draws can be sparse. However, as you get up to the playoffs the excitement starts to build and the crowd starts to hit that peak,” said Neil Houston, event manager for Curling Canada
In comparison, the 2017 Scotties that took place in St. Catherine’s, Ont. had a total attendance of 56,804. The year before that Grande Prairie, Alta. had an attendance of 36,854. One of the largest Scotties was in the curling hotbed of Regina, Sask. in 1998 where they recorded 154,688 in attendance.
“Penticton did very well. The entire city, city staff, citizens, corporations who became sponsors — even those that didn’t — everyone had fun at the event and there was a lot of good comments from officials and associations about the local businesses and friendliness of the people. It couldn’t have gone smoother or any better from my point of view,” said Houston.
photoLocal organizing committee co-chair, Kim Kirkham, and the board started pushing for the Scotties to be held in Penticton two years ago and said they have since seen some growth in the local curling club. While Penticton has a much smaller curling community than places in the Prairies or Maritimes, Kirkham said that is part of the reason for driving the event to the city.
“Ticket sales were good, especially the final. Volunteers, we had 322 of them and they were happy. It was also really good for the community economically … I heard people say they had Team Canada and other teams come in and visit local stores and restaurants,” said Kirkham. “But it also brings awareness to curling, especially in an Olympic year. Traditionally you see people get more interested after these events and sign up for learn to curl sessions. That is all part of this too, not just the financial gain. There is bringing awareness to curling and volunteering and so many other things.”
Kirkham said the HeartStop Lounge, which was located at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre and did not require a ticket to attend, had over 1,000 people in attendance on Friday night.
“That is the great part too. The up close and personal sessions with the curlers who sign autographs and answer questions from the fans — they were all part of bringing awareness. It gives fans a chance to rub shoulders with the athletes and we saw them in (the HeartStop Lounge) quite a bit. Team Canada was there quite a bit chatting with fans and one night were even out there dancing,” said Kirkham.
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Trying a re-vamped format for the Scotties this year, Curling Canada had a Wild Card game on the opening night. That put 16 teams, with each province and territory having a direct entry into the main draw, into two pools for the five day round-robin, instead of the traditional 12 teams in one pool. That format did lead to some blowouts, which could have also led to sparse crowds. Team Nunavut, who became a fan favourite getting large cheers from the crowd when they did manage to score, conceded all seven of their round-robin games and were outscored 23-74 by their opponents.
The eventual Scotties winner — Jennifer Jones, skip of Team Manitoba — said even though her team won the event, she isn’t a fan of the new format.
“Moreso, I don’t think it is great for women’s curling. That is my gut feeling about it. Above all else, that is all I want is for curling to continue to thrive and grow — to have kids believe they can make the Olympics and to have dreams of going to the Scotties and want to watch it. I want that for every Canadian,” said Jones.