Caithness: $13.4m deal with Kingdomway a 'game-changer' for curling
By Callum Murray
The World Curling Federation’s funding deal with China’s Kingdomway Sports, announced last year and worth $13.4 million over four years, is a potential “game-changer” for the sport, according to Kate Caithness, the federation’s president.
The deal will help fund the WCF’s planned new World Series of Curling, which will launch following the winter Olympic Games presently under way in PyeongChang, comprising four events located in China, Europe and the Americas, with the grand final to be held in Beijing. China hosting two of the four legs is part of the funding agreement.
Speaking exclusively to Sportcal at the curling venue in PyeongChang, Caithness said: “It will be like golf’s Race to Dubai, the ‘Race to Beijing’. There will be eight top men’s and eight top women’s teams, plus a mixed competition. It’s made for TV to get more visibility for the sport.”
Television coverage will be produced by the federation’s own World Curling TV, in co-operation with China’s CCTV, Caithness said, adding: “Then we can educate the CCTV people as well. China’s going to be our biggest market. Between now and 2022 they’re putting 300 million people through sports programmes, and also building 500 ice rinks. We hope curling will be a big part. It’s a game-changer. The Asian market is huge for us.
“We hope to spread the word about our sport, getting to more people. Who knows, maybe there will be six events [a year] in five years’ time. This is just the start.” Sometimes in the past the WCF has been forced to give its rights away to gain airtime, but Caithness said: “Obviously we want the rights to be sold, we want to attract broadcasters from all over the world to take these four events.”
Kingdomway Sports is based in Xiamen, China and also works with the Chinese Curling Association, Chinese Winter Sports, the governing bodies of Chinese soccer and basketball and the Brazilian soccer association.
Caithness, who was speaking as the newly-introduced mixed doubles competition was in progress at the games, said that the fact that mixed teams of one man and one woman are “easier to find” meant that the federation hopes to attract more of the smaller curling countries to compete.
At April’s World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship in Östersund, Sweden on 21 to 28 April, 40 countries are slated to take part. Infront, the Switzerland-based sports agency, is the federation’s marketing partner for other events, but for the mixed doubles championship it has appointed JustUpstairs, the Germany-based global marketing and communications consulting agency, to act as its sponsorship agency.
Caithness predicted: “With China, we’re going to find more sponsors coming on board. There are more knocking on the door.”
With a turnover of $7.4 million in 2016-17, and more to come thanks to the Kingdomway deal, the federation is in a period of growth which has meant that its number of full-time staff has risen to 16. Of the total turnover, by far the largest slice, $4.9 million, represented the International Olympic Committee's contribution, while the WCF received $1.3 million from marketing fees and $725,500 from broadcasting fees.
Caithness is one of only two female presidents of the 35 summer and winter Olympic sports federations (the other is the International Triathlon Union’s Marisol Casado) and, in view of the International Olympic Committee’s professed drive towards gender equality in sports governance, she expressed disappointment at this ratio.
She said: “I am disappointed there are only two female presidents – although it has brought focus to our sport, because everyone knows who I am. Within the winter group there are three excellent general secretaries, skiing, biathlon and bobsleigh, but at the presidential level it is very disappointing. Female athletes are coming into the IOC and I hope they’ll progress to the next level, as Katherine Grainger has done at UK Sport [former rower Grainger was elected chair of UK Sport, the sports funding and administration body, last year].”
Caithness’s own term as WCF president elapses in September, but she would not be drawn on whether she plans to stand for another four-year term, her third, saying: “My focus at present is on the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and then I will take stock.”