St. John’s looks to host 2017 Brier

Robin Short
Published on September 28, 2013
The 2005 Scotties Tournament of Hearts was the last big-ticket curling event staged in this province. The curling championships were held at Mile One Centre in St. John’s from Feb. 18-27, 2005. — Telegram file photo

Now that the Canadian Curling Association is showing a willingness to bring its marquee event — the Tim Hortons Brier — to smaller venues, St. John’s is going after the 2017 Canadian men’s curling championship.

The city last played host to the Brier in 1972, the only time the championship has been staged in Newfoundland.

The national women’s championship, the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, was held in St. John’s in 1971, 1981 and again in 2005 at Mile One Centre, the last big-ticket curling item staged in the province.

“I think this is an area of the country that’s hungry for the Brier,” said Brad Gushue, the Olympic gold medalist and 10-time provincial champ from St. John’s, who is part of a committee trying to land the Brier.

“The Halifax Brier has always been well-attended. That city’s seen the (Olympic) Trials and the Brier, and I think coming to St. John’s or Moncton would really put a bit of new life into the Brier, add some excitement and get some new people involved.

“I just know that if the Brier was in St. John’s, anybody who has ever travelled to the nationals in the last 10 years will probably make their way to St. John’s.”

The problem has been that since the late 1990s, the Brier has been held in large NHL rinks in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton, not to mention the 17,000-seat Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ont.

When the Brier wasn’t at the Saddledome or Rexall Place in Alberta, it was staged in medium-sized buildings in Halifax; Saskatoon; Regina, Sask. and London, Ont.

But the CCA made a big statement recently when it awarded the 2014 Brier to Kamloops, B.C., and the 6,400-seat Interior Savings Centre. That building is just a shade larger than Mile One, which seats 6,200 and change.

“Absolutely Mile One is big enough,” Gushue says.

Part of the reason the CCA is now considering the smaller arenas, Gushue said, simply lies in the fact there is now much more curling than there was, say, 10 or 15 years ago.

“A lot of it has to do with saturation,” he said.

“The CCA is only going to five or six cities, and they keep going over and over. But now you have Olympic Pre-Trials and Trials, Canada Cups, and the (Grand) Slam is getting bigger.

“You have to open up new markets and I think they’re doing that with the Scotties going to Montreal (in 2014) and the Brier to Kamloops. It really opens the door for some smaller centres to be part of it.”

The 2005 Scotties in St. John’s — known for Jennifer Jones’s shot for the ages which gave Manitoba the championship over Ontario on a late February Sunday afternoon — was a resounding success at the gate. That championship drew 73,000 fans, which at the time was the fourth-best attendance in the 24-year history of the event.

Of course, a smaller building means lesser revenue, which means the CCA will require some financial guarantees.

“That’s really the one big condition,” Gushue said. “There are others, but the guarantee is the big one.

“But we’ll look at corporate partnerships, and we’ll turn to the province and the city. The spinoffs alone from the TV exposure and the visitors to the city ... there’s a lot of benefit to it.”

In 2005, the host committee estimated about 1,700 people travelled to St. John’s for the Scotties. Assuming each person spent $2,000 — not an unreasonable figure — that’s nearly $3.5 million spent in around St. John’s during that 10-day period.

“Hopefully we can make it happen,” Gushue said.