Curling Canada's Greg Stremlaw is leaving on a high note.
He took over as chief executive officer for the national body for curling in Canada back in 2007. He announced May 19 he will be leaving the organization sometime in the fall. Prior to Curling Canada, Stremlaw oversaw operations of the Chicopee Ski and Summer Resort in Waterloo Region.
Stremlaw felt the timing was right.
"The middle of the winter season didn't make any sense at all. We had a really good run and don't want to extend anyone's shelf life, so to speak," he said when contacted late last week.
"I have thoroughly enjoyed my time thus far with Curling Canada, formerly the CCA, but (I) have some other exciting opportunities that (I) also want to be involved with."
No amount of cajoling could pry more out of Stremlaw of what his future job prospects are with the exception it will be in sport and it would be a senior executive position.
"I am not able to publicly disclose where I will be landing. There will be an announcement on that in the coming weeks."
He will still be at the Curling Summit at Blue Mountain Resort June 14-17. The audit and end of fiscal year for the 2014-15 season is still wrapping up. He will help with the transition if knowledge once his replacement has been chosen.
Stremlaw has certainly proved he has the credentials to go anywhere. (something with Olympic in the title? professional sports? feel free to comment on where you think he will turn up).
When first taking on the curling job back in '07, Stremlaw, who has a masters degree in sports management and business administration, set out four cornerstones to make priorities: Running the sport as a business, teambuilding, grassroots development and high performance.
"I think we can put a checkmark very, very capably next to each of those four. Doesn't mean it's all done but those achievements ... we have done some good work as an organization and I am very proud of that."
In any organization, dollars and cents (or sense with dollars) makes a difference.In 2007, the then-CCA had an accumulated deficit of more than one million dollars when Stremlaw arrived on the scene.
"Obviously we were in some financial difficulty."
As Stremlaw departs, Curling Canada boasts an almost three million dollar accumulated surplus, something that was actually earned in pretty short order by the CEO. Stremlaw downplays the financial achievement.
"it's not rocket science when it comes to the business component, obviously revenue needs to exceed expenses."
With Chicopee, a downhill ski club in Waterloo Region, it was introducing ways to make the resort a year-round destination. With Curling Canada it was making changes to existing structure but also adding different avenues to raise funds such as:
- renegotiating broadcast agreements "to have a healthy financial future and television stability"
- Escalated sponsorship portfolio, locally and nationally
- run the business as lean operation as possible
- finding new revenue streams (i.e rewards program regular for ticket buyers, online retail store etc)
In a press release from Curling Canada last week
Stremlaw’s eight years with Curling Canada produced some unprecedented achievements for the organization. Among them:
- Turning the organization around financially from a seven-figure deficit in 2007 to its current multimillion-dollar surplus and long-term financial reserve.
- Leading negotiations to secure the sports long-term television stability with both TSN as well as RDS, producing more than 300 hours of live television annually through to 2020.
- Responsible for overseeing a currently sold-out sponsorship portfolio for Curling Canada’s Season of Champions events, including long-term partnerships with Tim Hortons, Ford, Kruger Products, Bell, World Financial Group, Home Hardware, New Holland, DuPont Pioneer and Travelers Insurance.
- Oversaw an historic performance at the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi that saw Canadian teams sweep the men’s, women’s and wheelchair gold medals — a feat never before accomplished, resulting in Canada finishing the 2013-14 season ranked first internationally in all three disciplines; our country maintained those rankings this past season.
- Developed a comprehensive business plan and organizational strategy that led to the creation of the sport’s first national philanthropic program, For The Love Of Curling, and also led to the organization’s first major rebrand and systematic brand architecture launched this past March.
- Posting best-in-class scores in Canada’s National Sport Organization (NSO) audit conducted by Deloitte (an independent third party) as part of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Enhancement Initiative for national sport organizations. Curling Canada scored the highest possible score in 26 of the 31 process areas — the highest reported overall score among the country’s NSOs.
Curling saw large audience increases in 2015, its post-Olympic year, with the most watched Tournament of Hearts in history plus Brier ratings up 40 per cent over the year prior. It's an easy product to sell when that's happening.
In high performance, Stremlaw has seen Canada climb to first in the World Federation rankings (now two years straight) in both men's and women's as well as wheelchair. (Sweden was kicking our butts)
On grassroots, there is the introduction of the Love of Curling program, youth scholarships and teaming up with Rocks and Rings.
"Last year alone, (Rocks and Rings introduced curling) to 228,000 schoolchildren which is more than both Timbits soccer and Timbits hockey. That's a great way for us to expose the game."
There's more work to be done.
"We have to do a better job in converting those children from gymnasiums to on-ice."
Teambuilding isn't something the public can visibly see but Stremlaw says strides have been made.
"Regardless of title we are all in this together and if we don't operate together the sport is not going to move forward."
Although he has seen claims otherwise, Stremlaw made it clear that the changes to the national championships such as pre-qualification rounds and the introduction of a Team Canada wasn't brought about by him or Curling Canada's staff. That came from the member associations representing the provinces and territories.
"This year's changes were something the members voted on several years ago."
When asked about the future of the Hearts and Brier (there was a suggestion earlier this year that the Canada Cup that showcases the top curling teams in the country, regardless of geography should decide our representative at the worlds), Stremlaw had this to say.
"No, I don't think that the Canada Cup is going to be replacing the Tim Hortons Brier, the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Those are the national championships for the sport. They are steeped in tradition and obviously all we have to do is look at the (ratings) numbers.. this year. Curling fans have shown they are passionate about those events and the importance they play in terms of anointing a Team Canada."
"But tweaks or modifications? That's important for any sport."
Mixed doubles is another change likely on the horizon. Stremlaw pointed out that the International Olympic Committee could be making it's decision on adding it as another winter sport in just a couple of months. Canada finished fourth at the mixed doubles this year.
"If it becomes an Olympic discipline ... we are going to see a bit of a explosion of mixed doubles interest."
But that will be without Stremlaw. Curling Canada has some big shoes to fill but luckily for the newcomer it will be running smoothly upon arrival.