One of the most sought-after accessories at the Sochi Olympics were the foam hats worn by the fanatical and fervent fans of the Canadian men’s curling team. Shaped to look like the heavy granite curling stones that players slide across the ice, the hats are curling’s answer to the Wisconsin foam Cheeseheads worn by fans of the Green Bay Packers.
Canadian curling fans wearing the foam hats, called “rockheads” by some, generated plenty of television airtime, press coverage and photo Tweets as Canada beat Great Britain for the gold medal. Canadian hockey goalie Roberto Luongo wore one to cheer on his country’s curlers, and hockey forward Jonathan Toews was spotted wearing one in the stands of the USA-Russia hockey game. The Huffington Post, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and a number of other publications carried items about the hats on their well-read pages.
“Curling is exciting in real life, but on television it can be boring to watch,” says Keir Kurinsky, creator of the novelty hats . “The cameras frequently break away from the action and cut to the stands to show fans cheering on their teams. The foam hats at Sochi showed more personality to the sport than the athletes did.”
Kurinsky became a passionate fan of the sport after attending his first curling game at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. “Curling fans are a really fun group of individuals, who have built a good time around a quirky sport,” says Kurinksy, who was inspired to create silicone curling stone ice cube trays (for Jello shots) and foam hats to add to the fun of the sport.
After presenting samples of both products to the U. S. Curling Association in Green Point, WI, the president of the organization pronounced the hats “a home run,” and promptly placed an order. “They sold the hats faster than we could produce them,” says Kurinsky.
Over the years he promoted the items at curling events, and once distributed 200 hats to the crowd at Rockefeller Plaza when the U.S. men’s team appeared on the Today show. “I gave a lot of hats away in those days, but I built my name and product recognition,” as well as met a lot of movers and shakers in the curling world. He advertised in the Curling News prior to Sochi, and his years of relationship-building paid off when NBC reached out to place an order for hats to be shipped to Sochi.
Kurinsky says he shipped 10,000 hats over to the Olympics, and completely sold out of his entire inventory of hats and ice-cube trays. “Curling started televising on the first Tuesday of the Olympics,” he says. “My wife and I were out to dinner, and as soon as the sport started I had 300 e-mails from people looking to order hats.” He estimates he’ll sell some 50,000 hats this year.
One of the biggest lessons Kurinsky learned? “Give away as much product as possible. It will come back tenfold. If anyone called, I donated to their events to promote my product and remind people of my brand,” he says. “Going forward, my hats need their own Twitter account.”