Monday, January 26, 2015

Curling Night In America: The Debut

Even though it's not an Olympic year, it's never been a better time to be a curling fan in the United States. All major Canadian curling championships are available on ESPN3, and now we also have NBCSN's "Curling Night in America", which debuted last Friday night.

What is "Curling Night in America"? It's a made-for-TV tournament that USA Curling hosted back in December, featuring top American teams plus teams from China, Japan, and New Zealand. NBCSN taped the event over a few days with plans to broadcast the curling as part of "Curling Night in America", a six non-consecutive-week series of curling broadcasts airing late night on Friday.

11 PM is waaaaay to late for me to be awake these days, so I DVRed the CNIA debut and watched it the next morning with my kids. (Marla: "I wanna watch 'Mickey Mouse'! Dad: "Sorry, Marla, Mommy and Daddy are watching curling!")

(Actually, in all seriousness, curling grabs Marla's attention more than any other sport I watch on TV. Perhaps because she's actually seen her parents do it? Or, it's just because curling is awesome.)

This is a USA Curling production, so obviously, the goal is to promote USA Curling, particularly the top teams selected to be part of the "High Performance Program" (HPP), aimed at improving our results at the Olympics. The HPP curlers could prove to be very good in another three years, but given that the majority of the curlers in the HPP have zero experience at Olympic or World Championships, they're not there yet. This is a four-year-plan, not a one-year-plan. So, the foreign teams that were invited to participate in CNIA...they aren't the best of the best, exactly. At best, they're comparable in skill level to the USA teams. At worst, they're here just to make USA Curling look good.

Game #1 featured a women's team from the HPP, skipped by Nina Roth (née Spatola), defending national champion. (Roth/Spatola won the national championship last year with a slightly different team.) The opponent was a Chinese team I wasn't familiar with. (It wasn't the top Chinese women's team.) The US team mostly played well, but China won, mostly because of a strategy error by the US in the 4th end in which the US mistakenly gave China an opportunity for three points, which they took. In my limited experience playing Skip on real curling ice, I've had plenty of "Oops, I didn't know that I left them that shot for three" moments. (Except that it was usually for four or five.) That's the sort of thing you learn through experience, and that's one benefit to the HPP program.

"Curling Night in America" is great, but how can it be even better? I've got some ideas:

- It needs to be on every week. One reason the NFL is so popular is because it has consistent timeslots. For example, everyone knows that if it's Monday night, there's football on. (During the season, at least.) Not that curling will ever be the NFL, but the best way to build an audience is to have a consistent weekly timeslot. For next year, double the length of the CNIA series and have it on every week from mid-January through early April.

- More spectators, louder spectators. Watching the Canadian events with large audiences, you can definitely feel the buzz and the excitement from the crowd. The site of the CNIA broadcasts, the Four Seasons Curling Club in Blaine, Minnesota, seemed awfully quiet. (Maybe this was the 9 AM draw?) Since this is a made-for-TV event, they should have done what they could to fill the bleachers to the max and encourage the spectators to CHEER! Don't just clap politely when the USA makes a nice shot. Go nuts! They still should not cheer for opponent misses, though.

- A better time slot...maybe. Friday at 11 PM doesn't sound like a great time slot, but...here's why I'm actually warming up to it. Curling has a "cult following", right? I think it makes perfect sense to broadcast a "cult following" sport at this hour. Curling fans are dedicated, and they'll find it whenever it's on. And there's little competition to speak of at that hour, so CNIA has the potential to take over the timeslot, if you will. It's Friday night? TIME FOR CURLING! Although, while there has been plenty of social media buzz in the days/weeks leading up to Curling Night, there was very little buzz during the broadcast, even among all of the curling people I follow on Twitter and Facebook.

- Broadcast some non-US events. It was logistically easiest to film the entire six-week series in one weekend, sure. But CNIA would be better if it featured games from different tournaments. It doesn't have to feature a US team all the time, either. Maybe feature something international, either from Canada or the World Championships? Maybe find the Norwegian men's team - you know, the one with the pants - and film whatever tournament they happen to be playing in next weekend? Even casual curling fans would recognize the Norwegians. Of course, that would have to be up to NBCSN, not USA Curling, and CNIA is as much a product of USA Curling as it is NBCSN, if not more so.

Curling Night In America continues...not this week (see what I mean?), but the following Friday, February 6, at 11 PM Eastern.

By the way...I MISS CURLING SOOOOO MUCH. I have played a total of two games in the last six months, and it's killing me. All this curling on television and whatnot is great, but it's making me miss playing that much more. The new Triangle Curling Club building can't open soon enough.

1 comment:

Spartangoogle said...

A team from the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in a curling match against Peppa Pig's family: now that would be awesome!