Releasing the Kraken
Updated: Jan 6, 2021
To be fair, it was pretty obvious from the get-go that the launch of the NHL Seattle Kraken’s team name and related branding was going to be successful. I mean, even I saw it coming.
But the most successful launch of a team name in the history of the NHL, and potentially in all of professional sports? The results were breathtaking. In the one week period following Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke’s presentation of the new brand identity to construction workers at Climate Pledge Arena:
The team launch video drew more than 8 million impressions
1.7 million social engagements were generated on Twitter
The team’s social media following grew by 157% in 24 hours.
The sentiment rate on social platforms was 85% positive.
According to Fanatics, merchandise sales in the first 10 days surpassed the 2017 Golden Knights (the previous record holder) by 50%. (My tweet actually aged pretty well...)
Oh, and the waiting list to buy season tickets currently stands at 50,000 people. All this for a team that won’t even drop the puck until Fall, 2021.
How does this kind of success happen? Was it simply as serendipitous as a team executive sitting down to watch a rerun of an extraordinarily middling movie about Greek gods and having a “Eureka!” moment?
Far from it. Very far from it.
The Kraken name and brand identity is a direct result of a carefully considered process that took over a year-and-a-half to develop, implement, and execute. The success of that process provides a brilliant case study for sports and entertainment properties looking to create vital, compelling identities and their related intellectual property.
Here's how they did it:
1. Hit the Ground… Skating
Time is the one commodity that can’t be replaced, so management began the naming process almost immediately after the NHL awarded the franchise in December, 2018. The first brand discovery meetings took place early in Q1 2019, which allowed time for the team to fully develop and execute on their strategy. It also allowed for time to fully tease out ideas, and not get hung up on any missteps.
2. It’s a Team Sport
No one has all the answers. While the Seattle management team brought a peerless depth of experience to the table, they had the foresight to seek out multiple perspectives. The NHL, league apparel partner Adidas, and a local advertising agency were all thoroughly integrated into the process to ensure a variety of voices and expertise was accounted for.
3. Listen to the Fans
Ultimately, fans determine how successful a team name will be. Seattle’s process took care to ensure that these voices were clearly heard.
One tried and true method for doing so is the fFan naming contest. Local media executed the contest, and generated over 1,200 entries for their contest, including more than few of dubious value (including the now inevitable “Hockey McHockeyFace”…). Submitted names are only part of the contest value, though, as the contest gave the team a direct line of site into fan enthusiasm, expectations and openness to name options. It also helped inform selection of criteria that could be used to evaluate potential names.
Once the name list was shortened to finalists, the team hosted 18 fan focus groups, analyzed social listening reporting, reviewed informal fan polls and did exhaustive background checking on the different proposed names.
4. Develop a Game Plan
Stakeholders spent the early part of the process defining criteria that would be used to select the right name and related brand content. Much like the naming process itself, selecting evaluation criteria was methodical and thorough. Stakeholders were in agreement that the list should be short enough to manage, but not so short that it proved ineffectual. They began by eliminating criteria that would be difficult or impossible to accurately rate (e.g. “ability to sell merchandise”), and progressed arduously from there.
The resulting evaluation criteria included:
Could the name produce a compelling visual Identity?
Was the name alliterative?
Did the name produce an appealing phonetic signature?
Would the name be able to embody the values the team was looking to instill and portray such as Forward Concept, Intensity, United, Championship, and Dignity
Could the name be considered iconic?
Is the name connected to the Pacific Northwest region?
Would the name be unique?
Is it possible the name could be considered controversial?
Could the name be construed as “cartoonish”?
Would the name produce trademark issues or challenges?
Some criteria would prove to be a little more important than others. For example, as the team narrowed in on a name, “Marketability” became more central to discussions.
5. Keep Emotions in Check
With the criteria in place, team management then turned to defining an objective method for evaluation. After considering options, the team elected to use a straightforward binary rating system for assessing each criterion:
Criteria with positive attributes (e.g. connection to the Northwest) received either a +1 or 0;
Criteria with negative attributes (e.g. trademark challenges) received either a 0 or -1.
This binary approach had a dual advantage of simplifying the process while simultaneously minimizing subjective points of view.
6. Don’t Forget the Referees
Even the most objective process can lead to strong opinions. As the list of possible names grew shorter, the perspectives of different participants strengthened. To keep moving forward, the Seattle group leaned heavily on an experienced facilitator to keep them on task.
The Kraken name emerged from this process and, from the team’s perspective, had a number of things going for it:
It consistently rose to the top of the names preferred by fans.
The lore of the kraken is intertwined with the maritime history of Pacific Northwest.
It was absolutely original to professional sports, and therefore faced limited trademark obstacles.
Extensive trademark and design work followed selection and produced the overwhelming response from fans in the region and beyond.
And yes: they continue to sell so. much. merch.