The question rolled easily and frequently from the lips of loyal fans, family members, neighbors, best friends, friends of friends, new acquaintances, old rivals, baristas, total strangers, grocery store cashiers, the crowd-checker guy at the farmers market, top local officials, production assistants, teachers, students and at least one doctor passing by a hospital bed of a team employee. Oh, right, plus thousands of, um, let’s just call them passionate queries, from social media NHL Seattle followers: What’s the team name?!
The answer, gleefully, proudly and perfect-fittingly, is the Seattle Kraken.
OK, done. The next question coming through loud and clear in the early hours after today’s announcement? Well, it’s half-question and/or half-quip: “What took so long?” and/or “took you long enough!”
The “long” part is relative. Seattle was awarded an NHL franchise Dec. 4, 2018, becoming the league’s 32nd team by unanimous vote. The original timeline charted the Seattle entry into league play for the 2020-21 season. When top league executives and Kraken owners decided it would be prudent to deem the first season to be 2021-22, it increased the Opening Night wait time for fans from roughly two years to three years.
Thursday’s revealing of the Kraken name, marks and colors arrives 20 months into the process with 14 to 16 months remaining before first regular-season puck drop. Not exactly halfway, but there are still two Stanley Cups to be awarded before the Kraken wear the ‘S’ on their chests for an official NHL regular season game. The extra time afforded more interaction with fans.
“When we realized 2020 wasn’t in the cards for us, it bought us additional time, not only to research the name but to better understand who we are and what we stand for,” says Tod Leiweke, Seattle Kraken CEO. “We became better listeners. A great name not only speaks of who you are but also speaks to what you’re not. We were adamant to choose a name born of the fans.”
Almost every one of the more than 1,200 names considered by the franchise’s owners, top executives, staff and consultants derived from fans. The team conducted more than 50 “listening sessions” with ticket depositors and other fans. It sifted and reviewed hundreds of names submitted on digital channels and welcomed feedback from Seattle Times fan voting. The team’s social media and digital managers monitored hundreds of thousands during a year of listening on various platforms.
The list of 1,200-plus names were trimmed and trimmed and trimmed again. By mid-2019, about 15 to 30 names were still under consideration. In fact, one or two latecomers to the naming marathon made final 15, which were analyzed using objective scoring tools to determine which teams should move to the next round of scrutiny. Each name was evaluated for potential activation on game days and overall broadcast programming, plus merchandise sales and community outreach.
By last October, team executives conducted a naming discussion with David Bonderman, majority owner of the franchise. The group winnowed the candidates down to three names from a list of five. That same month, Kraken marketing vice-president Heidi Dettmer joined Space Needle officials to bury the final five names considered by NHL Seattle ownership. The capsule is set to be opened in 2062.
“I read every name submitted,” says Leiweke, who previously launched expansion teams in the NHL (Minnesota Wild) and Major League Soccer (Seattle Sounders). “We took every single name take to heart. Every name has a nuance. Our job is to think through the nuances. Sometimes the best intended names can mean one thing to one group and another thing to another group. We were thorough and determine to get down to the right final five and, ultimately, seize our identity. It was always vital the name reflects the values of the Pacific Northwest.”
The Kraken brand fits the description. It honors the Puget Sound waters that surround and inspire Seattleites. It gives notice to NHL opponents that our region’s team will draw strength and fury from the powerful sea. Playing as a visiting team at Climate Pledge Arena will be uncharted waters. Legend has it the Kraken can never be vanquished. Sure, all professional sports teams lose games but the successful squads never allows their spirit to be extinguished.
A telling element in the Kraken name is the mystery of the legendary beast. No one quite knows or agrees on the physical description. Fans and historians alike see pieces of it-such as the tentacle in the Kraken’s “S” team logo that sweeps into what designer call the “negative space” or non-lettered space. But no one knows the unnerving whole of what awaits opponents on the ice.
Consider these excerpts from the team’s “brand anthem” on SeattleKrakenHockey.com: “Our maritime city with a proud history of exploration and adventure is deserving of a name that incarnates the might of the sea. The Kraken represents the fiercest beast in all the world. Too large and indomitable to be contained … Now, we breathe new life into a legend. An ancient and powerful force reawakens in the heart of the great Pacific Northwest…The peril is in what you don’t see.”
Kraken GM Ron Francis (this is fun, using Kraken and Hall of Famer Ron Francis in the same sentence!) joined the name hunt last July when he was hired as the team’s first hockey operations boss. He was impressed of the volume and depth of name and logo work to date performed by the team’s executive ownership committee, Leiweke, a full range of staffers and consultants including league jersey designer Adidas and local brand consultancy Perch Partners.
“It is exciting for me that Tod has involved me in the process,” said Francis a month into the job last summer. “I am probably the least qualified person in the room when it comes to branding. I am impressed we are crossing all of the ‘T’s’ and dotting the ‘I’s’. I think the name is one thing. I think seeing the names paired with logo makes a big difference.”
Francis is thrilled with Kraken’s primary logo or mark, which is a beveled ‘S’ intended as tribute to the Seattle Metropolitans who won the Stanley Cup in 1917 with a distinctive “S’ on their striped jerseys. The beveling of that mark is a direct salute to the shipping industry vessels that are inseparable from Seattle’s early success as a seaport connecting us to the world.
“I’d be lying if I denied saying from Day 1 [on the job] that I was in favor of a more classic style-looking mark that works in the present-day too,” says Francis. “I think we were able to accomplish it. I think the colors are cool and the blues tie into the Pacific Northwest.”
Perhaps most importantly, Francis says he believes NHL players who play for the Kraken “will be proud to wear the mark and colors.” All fan and media debates aside, that’s an indisputable marker of success. “Players care more about the jersey than people think,” says Francis.
There is another less glorious but certainly necessary component of naming a sports that seeks to be a palpable brand and connector of hearts and community across Seattle, the Pacific Northwest, its broadcast states (Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Oregon), North America and yes, why not, the globe.
Trademark research is essential. Not all names pass the legal rights test. The team kept in close touch with NHL attorneys and executives on the trademark process and the overall name decision. There were difficult moments of negotiation, as per usual for pretty much all legal proceedings when getting it right is the result that matters most.
“I dream about opening night,” says Leiweke. “I dream about a brilliant arena filled with our passionate fans wearing the ‘S’ across their chests. I dream about those fans knowing the Seattle Kraken will never back down, the Seattle Kraken never gives up.”