Just a week before its next event, the Grand Slam of Curling was without a broadcaster after the CBC dropped the series suddenly on Thursday.
The move threw the elite four-event series into a precarious position and left curlers wondering about its viability.
Each of the four Grand Slam events carries a purse of $100,000, among the most lucrative in curling. As well, teams earn points in the Canadian Team Ranking System, used to determine spots in the Olympic Trials.
"I'm in shock," said Glenn Howard, who won the first Grand Slam of the season last November. "We have no idea what's going on. Everything seems to be up in the air."
The CBC had been the sole broadcaster of the Grand Slam for the past four years, showing the semi-finals and finals of each of the four elite curling events. But on Wednesday, it told iSport Media and Management, the Grand Slam's organizer, that it was ending its coverage of the series immediately. That meant the third leg, the Pomeroy Inn & Suites National set to start Jan. 25 in Dawson Creek, B.C., is in danger of being off the airwaves.
No reason was given for the sudden departure although several reports indicated iSport owes money to the CBC, but iSport chief executive officer Kevin Albrecht disputed that.
"We've been negotiating with them for nine months now," Albrecht said. "We have a lot of issues about the quality of the broadcasts and we thought it was getting stale and not up to the standards we'd expect. We've talked to them about this for some time."
He added that there was some dispute about the amount owed to the CBC.
While no one at the CBC could be reached for comment, a source said the problem is indeed over finances and pulling the plug at such a late date was a final and drastic step.
This marks the first time since 1962, when it aired the Brier for the first time, that the CBC will not have any curling on its broadcast schedule. It lost the rights to the men's and women's national championships to TSN in 2008.
With CBC out, iSport was negotiating with another broadcaster, believed to be Rogers Sportsnet, to pick up the series. Albrecht said he hoped to announce something in the next few days, but no deal had been finalized.
The CBC's move left many of the game's top players wondering about the future of the series, which brings together the curling's best teams four times a year.
"I just hope it continues," Howard of Penetanguishene, Ont., said. "It's just too important for us to lose it. This is like one step forward and four steps back if it dies."
Fellow Canadian Kevin Martin, who has won 14 Grand Slam titles, was optimistic.
"I don't really see a problem," the Edmonton-based skip said. "There are lots of cities bidding [to host events] the sponsors are solid and the TV ratings are great. There's not a lot of negative."
Special to The Globe and Mail