On Team Chemistry, Sponsorship, and Knifing
Don't stab me!
We’re back with another mailbag, baby! These posts ended up being some of your favourites from last season, and they’re always fun to write for me too. So let’s dig in to some of your questions and see what we’ve got here.
These two questions are along similar lines, so I’ll tackle them together. I think most teams these days truly approach it as a 4-year process. A lot of the time, these teams lock in sponsors for the full 4 years, and they understand that there can be growing pains associated with the new lineup. So given we are in October and around 2-4 tournaments deep for these teams, I’m sure none of them are panicking. I think when you think of a team like Homan specifically, every single one of them is playing a new position. Rachel’s throwing last but she’s sweeping, Tracy’s calling the game but she’s throwing third, Emma hasn’t played front end in 20 years, and Sarah hasn’t played lead. So especially for something like that, they’re going to give themselves lots of time to figure things out. As for a cascade, I just don’t see it. Last quad we saw Team Jacobs split with Ryan Fry after Year 1, and they brought in a piece (Marc Kennedy) who had taken a year off. It’ll be something like that. We won’t see a massive juggle, as most teams will want to stick together and if teams do reach for a change, it’ll be probably one player in or out.
Oooh, that’s a really fun question. I know it’s kinda tough to do because you have teams rotating in and out of the Slams, but I’d love to see a sort of “Slam League”. I think it would be super fun to maybe take 3 of the Slams and turn them into one giant tournament taking place over the course of a few months. I find one thing that happens often to me is Slam fatigue, where it feels as though you see a lot of the same matchups over and over, and it’s hard for some of them to mean a lot as the stakes of the matches are constantly shifting. But I don’t get tired of watching the Leafs play 82 games every season. So it could be cool to do something like 10 teams per gender, 5 days in a location, play each team once, 2 games a day with 1 one-game day. 27 games total, 3 against each team, top 6 make the playoffs. Take all the money that you would’ve had for 3 Slams and add it all together for a huge final cheque. I normally don’t like further enforcing the strata between the top and bottom teams but “Slam League” sounds kinda cool to me, and teams fighting for points to get into it would be cool too. Maybe you can even have a “Slam League 2” and there’s some sort of promotion/relegation system. With the format and knowing teams are getting 9 games per tournament too, you could easily do one leg in Europe and one in the USA, if you wanted to get really wild.
I spoke to Tyler about this and he said as long as he doesn’t get fired (he laughed), then yes, this will be a partnership for the season. He said a lot of people were surprised to see them playing together since there was no formal announcement, but said he was happy with their first event and Rachel is a phenomenal teammate. 24 year-old kid moves to playing with two of the best skips of all-time, pretty good gig if you can get it.
Yes to the 3 wildcards. It used to be that “THE BRIER” or “THE SCOTTIES” was the draw and it didn’t matter who was playing in it. Now, with the frequency of best-on-best tournaments, it does matter and you gotta sell tickets and TV ads. I think the odds that the full program changes are probably minimal for this quad, but there was mounting pressure at the end of the last quad to perhaps change the Brier/Scotties to a more regional/provincial format and have a stand-in event to select the World rep. That could happen, but again, money talks and right now, as long as the money is there, I think it largely stays the same.
Nothing too interesting lineup-wise other than this one, but it makes great sense actually. I talked earlier about the big adjustments for Homan, and this is all about minimizing those adjustments for Team Jones. I spoke to Mack after the PointsBet and she said that the thought there was that Karlee’s been playing third for so long (and is so good at it) that rather than having Mack and Karlee both learn new positions, only having Mack learn a new one is a positive. It also makes for an easier transition for when Jen doesn’t play, as Mack just bumps up to skip and they go back to the same lineup they had last year with Emily at second. She also told me that looking at the overall stats, seconds actually tend to throw more of the same shots as skips (hack weight chases/draws) so they felt like it could be a more natural fit for her. She said she’s loving playing it, and it’s tough to argue with the results and the giant $50,000 cheque on the wall.
Well, it’s nice that I play lead (and I’d like to think I was a pretty good at it) so me just assuming my old position would give me a chance to win with a great lineup ahead of me. I could probably be boring and say I’d just replace Benny on Team Bottcher (what we’d lose in sweeping we’d make up for in handsomeness) since I think that team is very well-constructed and I like all the guys, but…for the sake of being more fun, let’s say I’ll take Oskar Eriksson at skip (we all know he’d be great and I think we’d have fun hanging out, he’s got a great sense of humour), Marc Kennedy at third (no-brainer and we’re already friends so we’d have the chemistry element) and Bobby Lammie at second (we need someone to sweep since I’m old and busted and I also would laugh every time he said “barrier”). We wouldn’t win the Slam but I think we’d have a good shot at the playoffs.
So Chelsea Carey and I talked a lot about this on the Curling LIVE streams in Okotoks (and she knows more about it than me), but if you missed it, the new technique is called knifing. This is the picture in question:
The reason for the “knife” is to make the rock curl without making it go faster. By decreasing the area of the running surface that you’re covering, you minimize the amount you’re affecting the rock moving down the sheet, while still providing a “direction” for the rock to go. Teams will still use the “carving” technique on the left in the picture if they need the rock to curl AND travel further. That’s why you’re starting to hear skips use the call “curl and go” a lot more often, as that means they want the sweeper to switch from knifing to carving and keep the rock moving as well as finishing its curl. All this talk of knifing and carving has me glad Thanksgiving is just around the corner.
There could be but if you think the last end/extra end is boring NOW, wait until there’s ties.
We just go through the biggest offseason change in curling history, and you all want even more blood in the streets. It’s October. While it is likely we’ll see a few shifts at the end of year one, there’s nothing that could be predicted now, though I respect you for already wanting more drama.
Well, when the vast majority of your audience is a) old and b) lives in the Prairies…it makes sense. I remember one year I performed at the BC Masters (60+) Championships and the tournament was sponsored by a local retirement community and a funeral home. I thought that was a little on the nose.
Part of it is also that bigger companies don’t always see the value in curling. Whether we like to admit it or not, the game is still a pretty niche sport. Convincing a large company with huge budgets that’s after more visibility to sponsor you can be really tough. Targeting someone smaller that either loves curling or can see the value in making you their #1 biggest ad expense is what drives these more unique partnerships. That’s why you end up seeing these ads like Astec Safety with Bottcher or Original 16 with Flasch or Kioti with Dunstone. The company sees a clear benefit to being tied to the team and their success. With a larger company where a curling team would be 1% of their overall sports marketing budget, it’s probably a less interesting proposition. And it’s quite truly better for the teams too, as they can feel a part of a company’s success in return. I’m sure huge professional athletes don’t really care one way or the other if Nike continues to be successful, they just wanna secure the bag, but I know for me (and for me it’s of course on a much smaller scale than these guys), when we worked with sponsors, it was rewarding to see them having success from our partnership too. It’s truly symbiotic.
To give an example of larger companies in curling, I remember one year my friend started working fairly high up at Red Bull and she was chatting with someone in sponsorship about me and my curling and they told me to pitch them on a sponsorship in an email. I spent a lot of time putting something together for them and they basically told me they weren’t interested unless I was ranked in the top 5-10 in the world (we were 30ish at the time) and had international success. And that was with a strong connection! They went on to sponsor Chris Plys (just him, not his team, which still remains funny to me) a few years after that, and then ended up dropping him after 2 years I believe. It’s not hard to see why they’d pick Plys—young, cool, on the top American team—but they likely realized quickly that there’s almost no “youth market” to capture in the game. Until the governing bodies of curling and the entities who present the game take a much more involved stance to try and make the game more appealing to a younger audience, we’re gonna see a lot of ads for tractors (which of course is great in its own right). It’s just very hard to hold on to the potential big money players with the overall lack of exposure (especially in the key demographics) in the sport compared to the other, larger sports they can back.
I’m not sure the there’s a 1:1 correlation between the PointsBet being introduced and the Canada Cup being cancelled, and realistically the Canada Cup was also costing the 13-20 teams a lot by not being able to be there, so I don’t think it causes any more angst than usual. Honestly, in the CC’s case, it was actually teams 10-20 that missed out, so in theory the PB is better for the bubble teams. I am excited to see what Curling Canada decides to do with the Olympic Trials berth that went to Canada Cup winners, though.
Last one! This one is, of course, team-dependent. Some skips really like for the entire team to be involved in discussions, others don’t. It’s all about a vibe. Almost all of the top teams will run through end game/tough end scenarios during practice and try to communicate it all through so they can point out who they want to talk when. I have been on teams where the skip would have prompting questions they could ask us when they wanted input, and otherwise, we (the front end) stayed out of it. So it’s mostly preference and of course it’s magnified with all these new teams as they learn how to communicate. I do think there are some teams who have those types of discussions and then the front end still tries to run things anyway…and that’s when you start to have issues.
That’s it! Thanks everyone for reading as always. If you want to get a question in a future mailbag, follow me on Twitter at @cullenoncurling and watch for the prompt. You can subscribe and get this newsletter delivered to your inbox by clicking the “Subscribe” link up top.