Road To The Olympic Games

For the love of curling or the love of money? Financial burden can weigh on elite curlers

Primetime TV spots, bright lights, life up in the air and in hotel rooms for about half the year — curlers are as close as it gets to being professional athletes these days. Except for the money.

As season gets longer, sport's stars must dig deep to stay afloat financially

Canada skip Brad Gushue reacts after delivering a stone against Sweden during a gold medal game at the world's men's curling championship. (John Locher/The Associated Press)

TORONTO — Primetime TV spots, bright lights, life up in the air and in hotel rooms for about half the year — curlers are as close as it gets to being professional athletes these days. Except for the money.

"If there wasn't big money on the line this week, we probably wouldn't be here in Toronto," Brad Gushue said. "I play for the love of the game but after the grind we've been through this season, I would normally take this week off."

But the draw of money is what's keeping curlers on the road longer than ever as the season stretches out and teams try to become more elite than ever before. 

Gushue says it takes upwards of $150,000 for his team to travel around from bonspiel to bonspiel throughout the season. Jennifer Jones and her team says it's about the same for them. Not cheap.

"It's expensive for us to compete," Gushue said. "Most teams in Canada have some other sources of income to keep going, but it would be nice to see this be a full-time professional sport."

Gushue and some of the other top curlers in the world are in Toronto this week competing for the sport's largest purse — the Grand Slam Tour Players' Championship has $300,000 up for grabs, with $30,000 to the men's and women's winners, respectively. 

It's the second-last stop on the tour, which has seven events during the season, and many of the teams are exhausted and that is compounded by the fact that this was an Olympic year. 

Gushue estimates they've played over 100 games this season. But for as much of a grind as it is, there are sponsors to keep happy and money to keep making in order fund their curling aspirations. 

"It's essential," Gushue said of the Slam Tour. "If we don't have these Grand Slams, kids aren't going to grow up dreaming about this. The exposure is crucial. And it helps with sponsorship."

Edin looking for sponsorship

During the world curling championships in Las Vegas, Swedish skip Niklas Edin sounded off about losing funding from his country's national Olympic committee. For the past twelve years, Edin has been funded with upwards of $150,000 to curl. But that's all changed. 

Sweden skip Niklas Edin yells to sweepers against Canada during a gold medal game at the world men's curling championship earlier in April. Edin didn't win any prize money despite capturing the title and is still looking for sponsorship. (John Locher/The Associated Press)

Now the team has been using their $75,000 bonus from winning last year's Grand Slam Bonus Cup to pay for the remainder of this year's curling season. 

Edin is coming off a world championship victory in Vegas over Gushue. The team didn't win a single cent for capturing that title. He says the team is doing everything they can at this point of the season to stay rested and fresh for their games. 

But all of Edin's downtime in Toronto this week has been spent meeting with potential sponsors. 

"We've had five meetings in Toronto this week with people who can help out," he said. "I looked through my email this morning and I have over 300 emails that are flagged to answer to."

He's one of the best curlers in the world, yet Edin is having to play team accountant, manager and the lead on sponsorships. There's still a long way to go in a sport that continues to grow but lags behind when it comes to enough money to support the teams. 

"We spend about 200 days on the road and have spent about $150,000 to $200,000 each of the last four years," Edin said. 

Now they'll have to find a way to come up with that money or cut down their travel and events dramatically. 

Sponsorship and exposure

Mike McEwen says the Grand Slam Tour is the lifeblood for curlers. He says it's helped thrust the sport into the spotlight over the years and gives fans an inside look at their sport. 

"It's allowed us to justify committing the time," he said. "If we didn't have this, it would be hard to justify to your family spending this much time on this."

McEwen says having more curling on TV all the time also helps with sponsorship.

"What TV has really done, and it's unique to our sport, is allows people to get to go right into our kitchen in the house," McEwen said. "That is so appealing for the companies and people sponsoring us."

The Manitoba skip has enjoyed a lot of success on the tour over the years. McEwen says the seasons continue to get longer but it's a good problem to have. 

"The mortgage has to be paid. That's always in the back of your mind," he said. "I got into curling because of the love of the game but I can't do what I do without money being part of the sport. We just can't."
 

About the Author

Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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