Profit in a not-for-profit world, the business of curling's Brier: Hicks on Biz originally published in Edmonton Sun March 9, 2013
Curling is Canada's most peculiar sport.
The Tim Hortons Brier, entering into its final playoffs and championship games Saturday and Sunday at Rexall Place, is expected to sell at least 200,000 tickets.
It will have been televised its entire eight-day run, on Canada's most watched sports network, TSN.
The Brier, says Canadian Curling Association events director Warren Hansen, will cost $3 million to $4 million to produce.
It will earn, from ticket sales and sponsorship/TV revenue (including government incentives) $4 million to $5 million.
Most sports with such a big audience, as a rule of thumb, split net revenues on a 50-50 basis with its performers, i.e. the athletes.
But the Brier will spend just $500,000 on the 12 teams. It will cover all their expenses, and provide prize money for the winning teams.
That's 10% of net revenues in this case, not 50% as in other major professional sports.
Curlers, even at the Brier level, are not fully professional. The sport is an income-producing hobby. "In a good year," says former top curler Mark Johnson, now chair of the Brier's local organizing committee, "I would have covered my costs. In an excellent year I might have had a tiny bit left over."
To understand where the profits from the Brier flow, you have to understand the peculiar nature of this sport.
Outside of four "Grand Slam" tournaments organized by player groups, all profits flow to not-for-profit curling organizations.
Curling clubs in Canada belong to regional not-for-profit curling associations. In Alberta there are three - the Northern Alberta, Southern Alberta and Peace curling associations.
All regional associations belong to bigger regional associations, more-or-less organized along provincial lines, i.e. the (not-for-profit) Alberta Curling Association.
And 14 more-or-less provincial associations make up the not-for-profit Canadian Curling Association, which runs national tournaments and the curling Olympic trials, sets the rules and so on.
So all profit from the Brier flows back into the sport.
"Of the other five national tournaments, only one (the ladies' Scotties Tournament of Hearts) comes close to breaking even," says Hansen. "The others are paid for out of Brier profits."
The national association gives 10% of The Brier's net ticket sales back to the host provincial association and its regional components, to be used for programming and events.
The Northern Alberta Curling Association will top up its Legacy Fund that dispenses cash ($60,000 for 2013) to its member clubs for coaching, upkeep, local tournaments and so on.
Of course it's all full of politics and different opinions as to how things should be run. But it seems to work.
There's no question The Brier provides "economic spin" to Edmonton, but I'd take quoted figures with a grain of salt. The curling association knows its total ticket sales, but doesn't track total individuals attending a Brier.
About 25% of its audience is believed to come from far enough out of town as to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants. One study from curling's 2009 Olympic Trials in Edmonton pegged the "economic spin" at $25 million.
No matter what, the Brier brings big benefits to Edmonton. The only other events with such magnitude would be the annual Canadian Rodeo Finals and those occasions when Commonwealth Stadium hosts the Grey Cup..
Brier costs: $3 million to $4 million
Brier revenues: $3 million to $5 million
Number of tickets expected to be sold, 200,000 plus.
Brier record for ticket sales: in Edmonton in 2005, 281,984.
TV revenues: Canadian Curling Association takes advertising air-time in lieu of payment from TSN, uses that air-time as part of benefits of major sponsorship of Brier and its other "Season of Champions" televised events.
Number of local sponsors: 40
Estimated revenue from 50-50 draws for all Brier draws (22 draws with an average $7,500 per draw going to the house), about $165,000, split between Canadian, Northern Alberta and Peace curling associations.
Estimated "economic spin" to Edmonton from 2009 Curling Olympic Trials, from the Canadian Tourism Alliance, $25 million.
Funds allocated to Alberta curling associations from The Brier: 10% of net ticket sales, plus a percentage of 50/50 sales.
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