A Sweeping Solution

The World Curling Federation is developing a portable curling facility (PCF) that enables cities to host the sport at a cut-price rate. Elisha Chauhan reports.

There are 1.5 million curlers in the world. However, according to Kate Caithness, president of the WCF (World Curling Federation), many struggle to find appropriate facilities to practise the sport they love.

“Our member associations, particularly our newer members, have no dedicated facilities. They have to use arenas for sports like ice hockey at midnight to play curling. That’s just crazy,” she told SportBusiness International.

“Not only are some of the ice times impractical, more importantly, the ice commonly found in shared arenas is very difficult to play curling on. The quality of ice can have a significant impact on the standard of the sport, so it’s important to have dedicated curling ice to play on.”

Nevertheless, Caithness believes she has a solution to the problem: portable curling facilities (PCFs). An idea borne out of temporary curling tents she witnessed in Shanghai, China, PCFs are insulated tents with a minimum of two sheets of ice – making up the rink – which can be increased to six sheets to make a high-quality rink. A two-sheet PCF costs approximately €400,000, and the WCF is in the middle of a tender process to find manufacturers and contractors to build the first PCF.

Having to use
arenas at midnight
to play curling is
just crazy

“I realised that these insulated tents were the way forward and that we could use these types of facilities at a low cost,” Caithness adds. “We had actually been thinking about creating these facilities for some time, but seeing the facilities in China – attached to an ice hockey arena – running incredibly successfully really prompted us to move the project along.”

The WCF launched the PCF initiative at its Congress in September 2014, offering one PCF to its membership. Sixteen curling clubs across the world requested to loan it for the maximum 10-year period offered. After a decade the clubs would either be given the option to purchase the facility outright or return it to the WCF to be loaned out again.

Among the bidders were curling clubs in Porto Alegre (Brazil), Nevada (United States), Belgrade (Serbia) and Auckland (New Zealand), all of whom provided the WCF with a plan of how they would operate the PCF, as well as how they would use it to market the sport in their region.

The winner – announced in April – was CopperHill Curling Club in Turku, Finland, which will receive a two-sheet ice rink PCF before the end of the year. Once the PCF is up and running, the Finnish Curling Association (FCA) – which put forward the bid on behalf of the club – will pay the WCF rental fees for the PCF, as well as its operating costs.

“We won’t know how much the lease will cost per annum until the final construction costs have been calculated, but should Finland decide to purchase the PCF, we will deduct this rent from the cost. Thereafter, we can help with the funding for the purchase too,” says Caithness.

Younger Demographic

Turku, a city on the south-west coast of the country with a population of just under 200,000, does not have any dedicated curling facilities, yet has “very active curlers” according to FCA president Olli Rissanen. And though the average age of the membership is 40-years-old, Rissanen says he is hoping the PCF will bring in new and younger interest in the sport.

The PCF will be placed just a couple of kilometres from the city centre, in a sporting complex where there are two ice hockey rinks, an indoor football hall, a few schools and recreational park – making it a good location to attract young people to the sport.

“We don’t have enough curling facilities,” Rissanen told SportBusiness International. “Many of the clubs play in ice hockey rinks, but it’s very difficult to get time on the ice as ice hockey is such a big sport in Finland.

“We are getting more and more senior players, but not that many in grassroots, with the current number of participants around 1,000 – 750 of which are registered with the FCA. The idea is, once we get more places to play, we will have more programmes for curlers.”

Rissanen puts the FCA’s winning bid down to “very good connections and relations” with the WCF, based on the progress it has shown despite being a small national association. Though it didn’t compete in the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi, Finland hosted the 2008 World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship in Vierumäki – where Finland reached the final – and the 2015 World Wheelchair Curling Championship in Lohja.

An insulated tent similar to the above will be used as a PCF (portable curling facility)

The FCA has the option to purchase the PCF any time before the 10-year trial ends, and though Rissanen says he is unsure whether that will actually happen, it is the intention.

“We will either keep the PCF in Turku, or move it to another location should the city be very successful in the trial and need a larger rink with more ice sheets,” he adds.

To raise the finance needed to purchase the PCF outright, the FCA will sub-let the facility to local curling clubs for around €40 to €50 per hour, which Rissanen believes should be affordable for most teams given they already spend €40 an hour on average to play at ice hockey rinks.

The main income, however, will derive from “company curling”, says Rissanen, which is popular in Finland and sees businesses hire out rinks to put on leisure days for their staff or clients: “For that we would charge a higher rent fee of around €100 per hour. The FCA will also cover rent for any of our events held in the PCF.”

Future Model

Caithness says the WCF will be regularly tracking the operations of the Turku PCF – including evaluating whether the national association is undertaking the business plan it promised, as well as participation levels, marketing strategies and finances – to assess whether it rolls out more PCFs.

“We haven’t put benchmark figures against what we will consider a success, but I’m sure the evaluation figures will speak for themselves as curling is widely recognised as the fastest-growing winter sport,” says Caithness.

“I sincerely hope that in two or three years’ time, when we evaluate the progress of the trial, we don’t see that Finland hasn’t lived up to its business plan. If that is the case then we’ll just have to relocate the facility, but I suspect it will definitely live up to expectations.”

We haven’t put benchmark figures against what we will consider a success

Since the manufacturers and contractors for the PCF are yet to be selected, the WCF doesn’t know how many portable facilities it will be able to produce within a given timeframe. Caithness also says she isn’t certain how many the WCF will look to lease out in the future.

“We’ll assess how many PCFs we’ll be able to further provide before our Congress in Belgrade this September,” she adds. “However, if the FCA purchases the facility within the 10-year trial period, we will definitely lease another PCF to another member association.

“I’m sure the other 15 curling clubs that applied for the PCF will come back to us should we make the opportunity available again.”

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