TORONTO — The Grand Slam of Curling will make its first international stop next season with a visit to Las Vegas. It could be the first step in the series eventually going global.
The Meridian Open will be held Jan. 12-17 at the Orleans Arena as part of a six-event Slam calendar for the 2020-21 season, Sportsnet said Thursday.
"We've always been looking for new opportunities to grow the Grand Slam of Curling — both the tour and the brand — and also to help push and build curling internationally," said Rob Corte, vice-president of Sportsnet and NHL Productions. "For the last five years, we've seen some really positive momentum on many fronts in the Grand Slam of Curling.
"This was another one of those opportunities that seemed to work out perfectly."
It will be the first time that a Grand Slam competition will be held outside of Canada since the series made its debut in 2001-02. Sportsnet became owner/operator in 2012.
Las Vegas is no stranger to top-flight curling events. The Nevada city hosted four of the last seven editions of the Continental Cup, most recently in 2019, and the Orleans Arena was also home to the 2018 world men's curling championship.
Grand Slam fields have had a steady uptick in international flavour in recent years as the sport continues to grow outside of traditional curling hotbeds.
"There are some really strong international teams whether they're from Japan or from Korea or Europe," Corte said. "I think that's, as time goes on, the next step. You're always going to have a real strength in the Canadian teams, but the U.S. is getting stronger (too).
"So I think as those teams perform much better on the international stage and on the world stage, you're going to see interest from those countries and those areas of the world. And as we move forward, that's where we're going to look to hopefully expand internationally."
Canada, Sweden, Scotland and Switzerland are longtime curling powers but the sport has enjoyed exponential growth in Asia in recent years, helped in part by the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
Host South Korea reached the women's final at the Games before falling to Sweden while Japan took the bronze. Asian stops on the World Curling Tour — notably the Karuizawa International in Japan and Uiseong International in South Korea — have been gaining in popularity and drawing deeper international fields.
"The interest in the sport in that realm is expanding massively," said Gerry Geurts, who handles World Curling Tour operations.
The United States was a surprise winner of men's gold at the Olympics with Sweden and Switzerland also reaching the podium. Canada won mixed doubles gold ahead of Switzerland and Norway.
Two significant hurdles for potential Grand Slam global expansion would be the increased cost associated with running an overseas event along with time zone challenges. Tokyo, for example, is 14 hours ahead of the Eastern Time zone.
For the 2020-21 season, five of the six Slams will be held in different locations with the Players' Championship in Toronto the lone holdover.
The season kicks off with the Oct. 20-25 Masters in Sarnia, Ont. Other stops include the Nov. 3-8 Tour Challenge in Grande Prairie, Alta., the Dec. 8-13 National in Chestermere, Alta., the April 13-18 Players' Championship and the April 27-May 2 Champions Cup at a venue to be determined.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2020.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press