Early Scotties crowds sparse

Filling the seats in the South Okanagan Events Centre has been a challenge through much of the first week at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but that could change in the event's final days.

A total attendance of 33,075 was recorded for the first 17 draws of the tournament, an average of just under 1,950 per draw. 

Curling Canada spokesperson Robin Wilson said those figures include tickets for sponsors and tickets given out complimentary, which means the actual number of filled seats is significantly lower. 

Wilson added they expected 50,000 to 60,000 fans for the whole nine-day event. At the end of Thursday that total was on pace for a little more than 48,500.

Compare that to 56,804 total fans recorded at the Scotties in St. Catharines, Ont. last year, and 36,854 in Grande Prairie, Alta. in 2016.

But with the Scotties expanding from 15 to 16 teams this year, it also expanded from 22 draws to 25. 

Regardless, Wilson said she expects "the conversation will be different tomorrow," for Penticton's attendance, as she said more fans are anticipated to fill the SOEC in the final three days of the tournament.

The first draw on Friday morning, with a recorded attendance of 3,065, was the best-attended draw so far at this year's Scotties. That draw was a consolation game for the bottom-ranked eight teams.

Wilson said it's typical at the Scotties, wherever it's held, that attendance figures are back-loaded later in the tournament. She added competition plays into attendance more than tickets prices.

Keith and Faye Wylie, two fans from Edmonton who are in town watching the Scotties all week, said during Friday's 2 p.m. draw that it was visibly the largest crowd they have seen this week.

But they said it has been a work in progress to see the building as full as it was. 

"Other than school kids coming on three days, it's been pretty low attendance," Keith said, some time in between his chants of "Alberta!" 

"Even this morning, we don't think there was (3,000) in here," he added, noting the HeartStop Lounge may have accounted for more fans watching that he couldn't see.

Only four draws remain at the Scotties following Friday's action — pending any tiebreakers— with one game in each. The championship game goes at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

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