Known to many as the weakest of all Winter Olympic sports, Curling has been the victim of unpronounced mockery since it was introduced as a demonstration sport in the first Winter Olympic games in 1924 (Wieting 143). Since then Curling has remained its status as a Winter Olympic sport, while others still question its existence. Many look at this sport as a goofy game of Shuffleboard on ice and are perfectly fine with remaining ignorant about the sport and its history. Through my analysis over the course of this quarter, I have acquired a new insight into the sport, and why it is looked at by the majority of the United States the way it is. Within this paper, I plan to support my argument of how the sport of Curling in America is indirectly stereotyped through media coverage compared to Canada, and what characteristics the sport of Curling maintains, that allows it to remain an Olympic sport. There are many ways to go with this argument, but my goal is to support my position, while also relating to the views of the majority of America with the hopes of finding common ground.
To get an understanding of why Curling is judged the way it is, one must look into the hegemonic discourses of sport spectatorship. Masculinity is one of the highest dominating factors of sports in terms of not only performance, but spectatorship as well. I believe this is contributed to the fact that sports are consumed by a majority of male spectators. “Values about maleness or masculinity or what is manly in sport are often characterized as “hyper-masculine” as though there is universal understanding about what is masculine, let alone its enlarged or inflated forms” (Morrow 124). Males especially, are willing to pay to watch the sports THEY want to watch. In a world of Monday Night Football, Friday Night Baseball, and NASCAR Sunday, our nation has become commercially (and culturally) numb to this idea of competition at the expense of capitalism. A recent 2013 poll showed that 60% of ESPN’s 11 billion dollar revenue comes from cable subscribers (Chart). In a world of instant gratification, we want sports at our fingertips. Literally. Second to cable subscriptions was television advertising revenue. But why is this? Sports sells, and when television stations have a high viewer rating, more companies are willing to compete and pay a high price to advertise their product. By reading this alone, you should have a good understanding of the way our sports media industry in the United States works.
A research study was conducted on NBC and their sports coverage of the 2010 Torino Winter Olympic games. Interview techniques and broadcast schedules were analyzed to determine any evident acts of national bias in favor of the United States. Editorial Director and Lead Writer for NBC Joe Gesue admitted his primary goal was to, “Show viewers where these athletes come from, which can help frame who they are” (Billings 8). The problem here lies in the fact that most American Curlers train primarily in Canada. War and sport are very much aligned masculine values (Morrow 126). Why would the United States want to call attention to something that another country is doing better than us? In fact, Canada is in the same boat where this year’s Canadian Hockey team was made entirely of NHL players, including the coaching staff, who train here in the US (Team). Figure skating and track and field announcer Tom Hammond was quoted saying, “Television is a reactive media. We give the people more of what they want to see than what they ought to see. It’s not perfect; it’s not there yet” (Billings 12). By saying this I don’t believe he is speaking to the fact that the United States does not want to come off as looking weak by broadcasting something like Curling, but the producers are trying to find a medium in terms of how to sell something that’s never been sold here before. We know what works here in the US, and the television ratings are a good standard to use for measurement. Bob Costas even admitted, “If you look at non-American TV, they tend to focus on their own competitors to an even greater extent including sometimes when they have no chance to win. You go to Pakistan, they’ll show you Badminton all day long because they’re good at it. All countries do this to one extent or another” (Billings 17). I think a big question to ask here is how can Curling be marketed, and how is Canada doing it better than us?
Originating out of sixteenth century Scotland, Curling had migrated to the West around the year of 1820. “Due to the immigrant flow of Scots supported by the Canada Land Company, Curling clubs were established by the settlers in North America” (Wieting 141). I find it interesting that the sport migrated to not only Canada, but the United States as well. But only one ended up inheriting it. The sport primarily ended up taking off up North due to the climate. In terms of weather, it was easier and cheaper to get involved with the sport. Not only that, but the railroad expansion allowed for more work up North as well, allowing more employment for Scots in Canada. Essentially this was a leisure sport when the Scots had some downtime between work, which is where I believe the unprofessional stereotype plays in. “There is a long history of sociability associated with bonspiels, or matches, wherein each one is associated with liberal hospitality by the host rink or club. This has by repute often involved much alcohol consumption” (Wieting 141). Indeed there is (and should be) a difference between competitive Curling and recreational Curling, but this sport should not be criticized solely on its social history as a Canadian pastime.
So how can we find a middle where Americans begin to give the sport a chance? Integration is the best way. There are an estimated 15,000 Curlers in the United States (Wieting 149). Thats about a fourth of my hometown population to put it in perspective. The US needs to expand their grass roots campaign and start getting more children involved at a younger level. By teaching young Americans the sport, we can create a whole new generation of athletes who are exposed to a new option than just Little League Baseball or Pop Warner football. In Canada, “The training of the young is being refined, and it occurs at the levels of junior championship competition” (Wieting 146). Canada even has hopes to begin a level of competition similar to the PGA tour which would include the US. Again, commercialization plays a role and it needs to be able to appeal to a mass amount of viewers who already have their favorite sport pretty much picked for life. If we are not exposed to this sport, how are we supposed to give it a chance? America needs to step up and realize we are living in a society where commercialization is taking over sports in general and the act of competition. Somehow we have accepted the fact that since we have no rich history of this sport, companies cannot make a quick buck, thus we not only reject the sport but we poke fun at it as well. Since Canada has been one to accept and adopt the sport as one of their own, the commercialization will always follow the money. The same applies to the US. We can add one more sport to the list if we just become a little more open minded and start from the ground up. These media companies told us to our face, “It’s all about what the viewer wants.”
Billings, Andrew C. “Conveying the Olympic Message: NBC Producer and Sportscaster Interviews Regarding the Role of Identity.” Journal of Sports Media. 4.1 (Spring 2009): 1-23. Print. <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/journal_of_sports_media/v004/4.1.billings.pdf>.
“CHART: 60% Of ESPN’s $11 Billion In Revenue Comes From Cable Subscribers Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-60-of-espns-11-billion-in-revenue-comes-from-cable-subscribers-2013-7
Morrow, Don. “Olympic Masculinity: An Analysis of Canadian Newspapers During the 1976,1988,and 2000 Olympic Games.” Sixth International Symposium for Olympic Research. (2002): 123-134. Web. 16 Mar. 2014. <http://library.la84.org/SportsLibrary/ISOR/ISOR2002p.pdf>.
“Team Canada Olympic Roster.” TSN. N.p.. Web. 16 Mar 2014. <http://www.tsn.ca/canadian_hockey/feature/?id=1131>.
Wieting, Stephen G., and Danny Lamoureux. “Curling in Canada.” Culture, Sport, Society. 4.2 (2001): 140-153. Print. <http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/713999820>.