Curling’s Ripe for a Data Revolution
The next big thing?
by Andy Roberts
When you think of the sports data revolution, Curling is probably not the first sport that comes to mind. Despite occasional bursts of attention, usually generated by national teams doing well at the Winter Olympics, it remains one of the most low-profile ‘mainstream’ sports around the world.
Curling at MIT Sloan
It may surprise you to hear, therefore, that a recent amateur tournament, held to analyse the use of data gathering and analytics in Curling was attended by none other than Nate Silver, found of FiveThirtyEight.com and one of America’s most noted polling experts and statisticians.
Silver was joined in the fringe event at the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, by Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team, along with internationally renowned Curling gurus Gerry Geurts and Kevin Palmer, who had presented their paper – The Evolution of Curling Analytics – to the conference the previous day.
It seems that data-gathering and analysis are big business in the world of Curling, not only to support and facilitate sports betting markets, but also to help teams develop their form and tactics. Geurts and Palmer are retained by several national teams, including the United States men’s team who won gold at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
Curling set the pace in data analysis
The truth is that, when it comes to data, Curling was actually something of a trendsetter. Geurts was already working on the digitalisation of Curling data back in 2004, long before many sports had even considered it. After teaming up with Palmer to work on data analysis, the pair were able to produce insights that challenged established tactics and thinking in the sport, although the use of data for other purposes is a relatively recent innovation.
The next step in the gathering of information on Curling is to implant sensors in the stones themselves, where they will be able to gather data on speed, spin rate and traction.
While Curling remains a niche sport when it comes to betting, the data revolution has driven a significant uplift in interest and, the more complex the data, the more markets betting companies can offer. In Canada, one of the nations with the strongest following for the sport, national team events attract a loyal, and growing, army of fans who are willing to put their money where their mouth is.
Comparing curling with chess
Geurts and Palmer explain the benefits of data analysis in Curling by comparing it to chess, a game of skill as well as a sport, which means that data can have direct practical implications for individual players, as well as helping to guide overall team tactics. Similarly, this information can help punters to analyse the form and competitiveness of their chosen teams in order to plan their bets.
Like any sport, data gathering and analysis in Curling can only be a good thing. It helps the teams to evaluate and enhance their performance, while also offering the potential to increase betting, which in turn will help to drive a larger audience. And who knows, if tennis can become the second most popular betting sports, the sky really is the limit.
Check out Sport Acuity’s work in producing the coverage for The Curling World Cup.