Feature Article - July/August 2006
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Adults on Ice

Grow your programming by appealing to grownups

By Stacy St. Clair



Curling

It seems no sport gets a bigger Olympic bounce than curling, the quirky game aptly described as shuffleboard on ice.

And more importantly—at least from a rink manager's perspective—no sport is easier to begin programming.

American TV audiences were treated to more than 50 hours of curling during the Turin Games and watched the U.S. men's team win the country's first-ever curling medal, a bronze.

In the months that have followed, the Wisconsin-based U.S. Curling Association (USCA) has received phone calls from all over the country. The association currently has 135 clubs nationwide, and that number is expected to grow.

"Since the 2006 Winter Games, we already have had people calling from places like Atlanta, South Carolina and Mississippi—places where they have never had curling clubs before," says Terry Luder, the association's communications specialist. "It's great for ice rink managers because it offers an opportunity for the ice to be utilized."

Perspective players have been inspired by the Everyman-look of the Olympic curler. They want to experience the fun of competing in a winter sport that doesn't require risking life and limb. (We're looking at you, luge and moguls.)

What's more, participants don't have to know how to skate to participate. The curling ice has a pebble to it, making it easy to walk on and less slippery than fresh ice.

"Curling is something you can start at any age," Luder says. "It is not like gymnastics, where you need to start at age 5 and hope you don't grow. We have people in their 90s still throwing stones."

The curling association encourages rinks to market the sport to golfers, who are looking for something to do during the winter months. The two sports complement each other because curlers must read the pebbled ice just as they would a putting green.

"It appeals to a lot of people who play golf," Luder says. "They like to participate in the off-season because then they feel they can pick up their golf game right where they left off."

Starting a curling program is not terribly difficult. A used adult set costs about $3,000, with a slightly lower price tag for junior stones that can be handled more easily by children.

Experts recommend at least two sheets of ice per facility to run an adequate program, though some arenas make do with one sheet. Facilities generally charge $8 to $10 per match and dedicate a couple nights per week to curling leagues.

"Curling doesn't require a lot of money to put into it in the beginning," Luder says. "It can be a lot less expensive than figure skating or hockey."

Most importantly, rinks must be willing to take the time to educate the public about the sport. Many hold open houses, which give perspective patrons the chance to try curling in an instructional setting.

"People like to try new things," Luder says. "Rink managers need to help people understand what curling is and then keep them interested."