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The Curling Group acquires Grand Slam of Curling from Sportsnet

Seismic changes are coming to the Grand Slam of Curling, and to the sport itself.

The Curling Group, a new venture backed by elite international curlers looking to invest in growing the sport, announced an agreement with Sportsnet on Tuesday to acquire the series from the broadcaster following the conclusion of this week’s Princess Auto Players’ Championship.

The 2024-25 Grand Slam of Curling season will proceed as planned, with five events featuring the top men’s and women’s teams from around the world. 

“It’s got a legacy, it’s got a tradition, it’s got a history that you can’t replicate,” Nic Sulsky, CEO of The Curling Group, said of the series. “The opportunity to bring the Grand Slam of Curling to the next level, the opportunity to revitalize and bring some elements of re-branding into it, the opportunity to inject a new level of energy — not only into the events themselves but, call it, the ‘shoulder content’ that surrounds all the events — was an opportunity and is an opportunity that myself and my partners are not taking lightly.

“Starting something from scratch, while it might have been easier, at the end of the day, being able to build the next stage into the evolution of the sport of curling, using the history and the tradition of the Grand Slams is something that you can’t just put a dollar amount on.”

Sulsky is no stranger to the sport, having been involved with curling through his previous role as Chief Commercial Officer of PointsBet Canada, which currently sponsors Brendan Bottcher’s and Kerri Einarson’s teams, and is an exclusive partner with Curling Canada. The online sportsbook has also served as the title sponsor of the PointsBet Invitational winner-take-all bracket tournament.

Taking the sport to the next level is something Sulsky says he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about for a number of years. He began conversations with Sportsnet last summer about acquiring the Grand Slam of Curling. According to the company’s VP of Production, Rob Corte, Sportsnet wasn’t looking to sell the series, but Sulsky’s passion was intriguing, as was the potential to remain active within the sport while prioritizing the broadcast side of events.

“The more we talked, the more it made sense,” Corte said. “It kind of happened relatively quickly, and it’s a situation where the deal is great for both sides. From a Sportsnet perspective, we still retain the exclusive Canadian broadcast rights long-term, and that was extremely important for us. On Nic’s side, his incredible vision for what this world could be for the Grand Slam of Curling got us totally psyched and we quickly made this thing happen.”

The ownership group for the new venture also includes sports, media and entertainment industry veteran Mike Cotton, two-time Olympic curling gold medallist John Morris and former NFL defensive end Jared Allen. 

Sulsky has been good friends with Cotton for many years and got to know Morris when PointsBet sponsored Kevin Koe’s team in 2022. After Morris retired from men’s curling, Sulsky reached out to see if he was interested in continuing their business partnership. 

“It’s hard not to like and love John Morris,” Sulsky said. “I’ve gotten the great privilege of walking into lots of sporting events and things like that with athletes, with other celebrities, but I’ve never experienced anything in my life that can compare to walking into a curling venue or a curling event with John Morris. It’s like walking into a concert with one of the Beatles. It’s really quite incredible.”

Sulsky says Allen was one of his favourite NFL players, and the wheels started turning when he found out the five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro selection was now competing on the curling tour and looking to make the U.S. Olympic team.

“I loved his personality and got introduced to Jared,” Sulsky said. “He is as authentic and passionate as a sports fan and athlete and an investor — he’s not an investor in The Curling Group but he’s invested in a number of other ventures — he’s as real as it gets. We hit it off.” 

Legendary skip Jennifer Jones, who is retiring from competition after the Princess Auto Players’ Championship, will also be involved with The Curling Group as a strategic advisor. Sulsky believes having her involvement and input is integral.

“Being able to work with and pick the brain of one of the most legendary curlers in the sport not only allows us an insight that, candidly, I don’t have and hopefully provides a level of integrity and trust in us not only for the curlers but for the curling community that we are doing this for the right reasons,” Sulsky said. “The growth of women’s curling has been incredible and, let’s face it, the growth of women’s sports now all over the world has been one of the hottest topics in the sports industry over the last year or two, and I don’t think there’s anything different there with the sport of curling. Having the perspective from not only a true legend but from a professional from the women’s side of the game is incredibly vital for us.” 

Sportsnet has owned and operated the Grand Slam of Curling since 2012. Over the years, the series expanded to include men’s and women’s tournaments at all of its events and increased the total purse to allow it to be equally split between both divisions, something Corte says he’s most proud of under his watch, alongside the series relationship with its athletes.

“The curlers have been first and foremost in every decision we’ve made,” Corte said. “They’ve always been involved because the goal for us was to grow the sport and to grow the Grand Slam of Curling. That’s one thing that we’re excited about with what The Curling Group has put together. They have a really strong advisory group that’s led by strong curlers: John Morris, Jennifer Jones. They’re part of what Nic’s group is planning and there are other many curlers also that are, and will be, involved. By having the world’s best curlers leading the way, there’s no way this can fail.” 

Sulsky is keen to support the continued growth of women’s curling, citing Rachel Homan’s unprecedented season winning Canadian and world championships, two Grand Slams and sporting an unbelievable 62-5 record. 

“I can’t remember a curling team having the type of year she’s been having — and not only her but Emma [Miskew], Sarah [Wilkes] and Tracy [Fleury],” he said. “The year they’re having is incredible and it should be celebrated. I think it’s the perfect time now to really elevate not only the sport but the incredible women in the sport to the level they deserve to be on.”

Corte admitted holding an international tournament is one of the things he wishes he could have achieved, especially since the series was set to stage an event in Las Vegas in January 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic brought a halt to those plans, but he’s hoping it’s something The Curling Group will pursue. 

“We were starting to gain momentum. The Grand Slam of Curling this year is having a fantastic year,” Corte said. “Our audience numbers are up significantly. For example, the 18-34 demographic is up 44 per cent on broadcast. The total audiences are up 16 per cent versus last year. Our momentum is there, but cracking the international market is something that has been challenging and it’s something I will look back on as a little bit disappointing because we were so close but, unfortunately, COVID just kind of stalled it. We’ve been working towards it, we just haven’t gotten to it yet, but I’m very confident with The Curling Group and Nic’s leadership that that’s going to be accomplished.”

Although Sulsky isn’t willing to publicly divulge the specifics of any changes he hopes to implement until he’s had a chance to first discuss them with the curlers, it appears he’s aiming to make a monumental impact on the sport. Sulsky believes traditionalism has stunted the evolution of curling and admitted some of the changes he has in mind may ruffle the feathers of some long-time fans.

“The question that a lot of those more historic curling fans are going to need to ask themselves is whether they want to see the sport they love jump onto a truly global, exciting stage alongside some of the other incredible sports that are evolving, growing, embracing all of the new technologies and innovations that have been developed over the last decade,” Sulsky said. “Because that is exactly what we’re going to do. We’re doing this from a place of love for the sport of curling, but also from a place and a need to grow the sport — not only for the business part of the sport but for the curlers themselves.” 

Sulsky also plans to hold court with other stakeholders, such as national and international governing bodies, to get them to recognize his goals.

“I hope they understand that we are doing this from a place of love for the sport and a desire to help bring this sport to new heights,” he said. “A rising tide lifts all boats. … The reality is we are planning on injecting money, energy and vision into this incredible sport. I have every hope and desire to collaborate with them and to bring them along for this ride. 

“It’s going take years and years to get to the place I think this sport can get to and I am very excited to partner and collaborate with all of the international organizations, brands, sponsors, curlers and fans from all over the world to help us achieve that goal.”