CBRM Council: We’re Bidding for the 2023 Brier

CBRM council met for almost four hours Tuesday evening and I thought I’d try to do a general round-up of the meeting but the very first item I began to research sent me down a rabbit hole from which I’ve just emerged, so I’ll have to continue my coverage in another edition.

It all started early in the meeting, when Mayor Amanda McDougall announced they would boot spectators, camera operators and media from the room, turn off the live feed and go in camera to discuss details of the municipality’s bid for the 2023 Tim Hortons Brier — the 16 team, Canadian Men’s Curling Championship — the grounds for secrecy being the fear that the CBRM would lose its competitive edge were its rivals to hear the details of its bid. (I think of this as the “Albert Barbusci” clause.)

It seems this need for secrecy was determined only after the item had been placed on the agenda for the public meeting — otherwise, surely, council could have discussed it during the in camera session it had held at 10 am that very morning. Instead, viewers of the live feed were treated to roughly 15 minutes of this:

council black screen


Later, Recreation Manager Kurt Durning appeared to present his memo on the bid, which Recreation has apparently been working on with Destination Cape Breton “since meeting with Curling Canada representatives at the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance Sport Event Congress” at some unspecified time.

Durning’s memo relies heavily on the “Application for Hosting 2023 Brier,” which you can read on the Curling Canada site, but he’s made a few interesting revisions. Here’s what the actual application says about the event’s expected economic impact:

The Brier is the annual Canadian men’s curling championship. It is regarded as the world’s premier curling event and by far the best supported curling competition in terms of paid attendance and attracting large crowds in-venue and television audience. The event is supported through the efforts of on average 500+ volunteers. The economic impact assessment varies on location at a minimum $8M to $15M. 

Here’s what the memo to CBRM council says:

The Brier is regarded as the world’s premier curling event and is by far the best supported curling competition in terms of paid attendance, attracting large crowds in-venue, along with a television audience through a national broadcast with TSN. The Brier is supported through the efforts of 500 volunteers. The event is projected to attract over 100,000 spectators with an estimated economic impact of between $10M and $15M.

To me, that looks like he’s playing down the number of volunteers necessary and playing up — to the tune of $2 million — the likely economic impact of hosting the tournament. (Shortly after Sydney hosted the 2019 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Centre 200 manager Paul MacDonald told the Post the event had been supported by 379 volunteers — who, according to the CBC, were required to dedicate 30 hours to the tournament and pay a $100 “commitment fee” to offset the costs of their uniforms.)

The minimum bid requirement to host the Brier is $750,000 which Durning said is:

…expected to be covered by contributions from the municipality, and the Provincial and Federal government. Given the competitive nature of the bid process it may be necessary to consider further cash and value-in-kind contributions to enhance the bid to host the event.

But as you can see from the application form, there’s no “may” about it — further cash and value-in-kind contributions are clearly expected:

Bid Fee Brier 2023

Those “further” contributions were undoubtedly the subject of the in camera deliberations, because although the public will foot the bill for all of this, should the CBRM’s bid be successful, it will not be allowed to see the bill until the bidding has closed on August 30. (Curling Canada says “decisions and notifications” will happen on September 30.) Council voted to approve the bid without any public discussion.

But to get a sense of what the CBRM may have to promise, consider Moncton, which has made two unsuccessful bids for the Brier. In 2018, after failing a second time to secure the event, the president of Curl Moncton said Curling Canada told the committee its bid had failed “because the amount of money put forward as a bid fee and the number of deposits for event tickets weren’t enough,” although the province had agreed to pay the $750,000 bid fee, Curl Moncton had committed another $50,000 and the City of Moncton had also agreed to chip in.


Winner, winner

An even more eye-opening example may be that of Lethbridge, Alberta, which made a successful, $1 million bid for the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier — a bid it discussed in public during a June 2020 council meeting. According to the Lethbridge Herald:

Council voted 7-2 to designate all remaining dollars left over in its major event hosting fund, amounting to $355,000, for the bid, and to make up the remaining $245,000 needed in cash from the council contingencies reserve fund.

The other $400,000, as explained at the June 1 council meeting, would come from “in kind” donations represented by allowing free use of the Enmax Centre and adjoining Lethbridge Soccer Centre for the week of the event.

Councilor Joe Mauro, who voted against the bid, said:

…in all his years sitting on city council he was tired of hearing the “same old song and dance,” and having organizations coming to council year after year to ask for taxpayer money for supporting such events and bids without contributing any funds of their own, despite receiving the most benefit at the end of the day.

The other dissenting vote was cast by Councilor Belinda Crowson who:

…said she was opposed because she suspected the current recession Lethbridge and the province was facing would continue well beyond 2022, and she could not support a $1-million bid for a sporting event when local businesses were asking for COVID relief and social programs in Lethbridge remain underfunded when compared to other jurisdictions.

But, as noted, the city supported the bid — and discussing its details in public clearly didn’t blunt Lethbridge’s competitive edge.

Brier 2022

Smaller venues

The Brier has never been hosted outside of Halifax in Nova Scotia, but Curling Canada has “recently lowered seating requirements” for the event, meaning Centre 200 meets them. The requirements for 2023 are:

6,000 (minimum) seat arena with associated facilities: One (1) facility in the 60,000 – 80,000 sq.ft. range. Curling Canada must be confident that the site selected can be financially successful and that there will be civic and provincial support of the event. 75 hours of live television coverage is included.

A Kingston Whig-Standard article about the 2020 Tim Horton’s Brier, which Kingston hosted in the 5,700-seat Leon’s Centre, noted:

In the past, Briers have been held in large venues where National Hockey League teams play, but lately, Curling Canada has opted to hold its signature event in smaller venues, such as the Keystone Centre in Brandon, the site of the 2019 Brier, or Mile One Centre in St. John’s, N.L., where the 2017 event was held.

It’s also much more difficult these days to attract fans to live sporting events, many who would rather watch on TV. Curling Canada is putting the bonspiels in communities that can rally around them now — there’s an ownership and pride that exits in smaller centres you just can’t duplicate. The Scotties and Brier then become the biggest shows in town.

So, they sell more tickets and attract more volunteers in smaller communities and it’s not out of the question to suspect they attract higher bids, too, from municipalities hungry for “world-class events.”

This year, in addition to CBRM, London and Barrie, Ontario have both announced their intention to bid on the Brier.

But do the host cities really benefit as much as Curling Canada does?


Economic impact

The economic impact assessment for the 2019 Scotties Tournament of Hearts was created using a tool developed by the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance (CSTA), an industry organization that “promotes sports tourism.”

If you’re wondering how the steam pro 2.0 tool works, it’s easy, it works like this:

Diagram from EI Assessment, 2019 Scotties Tournament of Hearts


The report, based on surveys of 632 attendees, claims the Scotties generated visitor spending of $3.9 million, but the authors’ explanation as to how this figure was calculated leaves something to be desired:

Visitor spending was calculated based on the survey results from people staying overnight in For [sic] McMurray and extrapolated to the overall attendance figures provided by Sydney Sport Tourism.


The authors say the event attracted “nearly 14,000 unique spectators” but a full 76% of attendees lived in Nova Scotia and 66% in Cape Breton, so it’s an open question as to whether the event really constituted “sports tourism.”

But I’m always skeptical of “economic impact” figures — especially those produced by industry organizations (have I told you what I think about the figures produced by the cruise industry?). And I’m disappointed the report doesn’t include the numbers I would really like to see, namely, how much Curling Canada makes on these tournaments. (Sponsorships, broadcast rights, hosting fees, merchandise — it’s got to add up.)

As I mentioned at the outset, though, I’ve had only a few hours to research this subject and there is sure to be more information out there, so I’ll keep looking. And in the meantime, I’ll leave you with an interesting observation from Paul MacDonald, manager of Centre 200, who spoke to the Post‘s Jeremy Fraser a year after the Scotties and expressed some doubt about the venue ever hosting a Brier:

MacDonald also noted the possibility of hosting the Continental Cup and even the men’s or women’s world championship but wasn’t quite sure about the Tim Hortons Brier.

“The Brier, I’m not so sure about in terms of what the guarantees are and how it works,” said MacDonald. “It may just slightly be out of our league, but again, it’s something we can also look at, I wouldn’t rule it out completely.”