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The people at Korbel Champagne Cellars understand that an invite to a curling event might prompt a response along the lines of “What's curling?” In fact, according to Korbel assistant vice president and director of public relations Margie Healy, that was her company's reaction when NBC Sports—after a two-year partnership that involved the sponsorship of more well-known athletic competitions, such as golf—approached the spirit-maker with the question, “So what do you think about curling?” (NBC went on to explain, “It's that funny sport from the Olympics.")
More precisely, curling is a sport that involves teams of four sliding 42-pound polished stones toward a target while manipulating the speed and direction of the stone by vigorously rubbing brooms back and forth in front of the stone. But perhaps you already know this, as according to NBC, the network's 2002 and 2006 Olympic curling coverage spawned a cultlike following for the sport. (Indeed, 2006 coverage saw CNBC increase its viewership 703 percent over the previous year.)
So Korbel bit, and is now, for the second year in a row, the sponsor of the Elite Curling Challenge, an exhibition game. This year's face-off, between reps from the U.S. and Sweden, took place at the Rink at Rockefeller Center, and Korbel hosted a private media reception on the rink complete with curling lessons and cocktails, an event initially scheduled to take place right before the match kicked off Friday night at 7 p.m. However, reports predicting bad weather conditions (namely, rain) forced NBC Sports to move the competition to Friday morning, when it taped the game in order to broadcast it on December 23. But the party went on, even if it wasn't a prelude to the friendly face-off.
Prepping in the relatively unglamorous—but certainly authentic—environment of Rock Center's locker room, just off the rink, Healy confessed, “We're winging it." She also explained that since 70 percent of her company's sales occur from October to December, getting the Korbel brand in front of people as the holiday season kicks off makes sense.
Despite the inclement weather, spirits were high under a tent on the rink, the surface of which was emblazoned with the logos of NBC Sports and Korbel. Media types drank Korbel Broomstacker specialty cocktails (the name is a reference to a postgame curling tradition), and most tried their hand at curling under the guidance of 2006 bronze-medal-winning Olympian Shawn Rojeski. There was also a lot of talk about curling as, forgivably, nobody in attendance really knew anything about the sport. With a sales meeting taking place nearby in Rockefeller Center, even Korbel owner and president Gary Heck paid a visit to the gathering, thanking guests for attending and fielding questions, such as whether champagne supplies could withstand the coming holiday-season demand. (Affirmative.)
And even though the game was rescheduled due to the weather, the match (underlaid by the Korbel logo throughout) still managed to captivate Rock Center visitors in the daylight hours. On hand for the festivities was Les Harrison, president of the World Curling Federation, who said, “It's superb to be able to demonstrate the sport in front of a varied live audience. People were coming and going throughout the game.” Added Healy, “Lots of people stood for the whole game. With the flags of Rockefeller Center, it looked like an Olympic field.”