NHL insider: Kraken missed opportunity to make a good impression on Seattle sports fans

Inside the NHL

Grilling chestnuts by the fire, or something, with my wife, Amy, last weekend we talked about the Kraken and their renewed commitment to winning.

That was before Monday night’s debacle against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Kraken had won five of their last seven games and had just beaten the top-flight Edmonton Oilers.

Most of the time, we were talking about the Kraken’s great opportunity to shine in this city’s sports market given the sudden downturn in the Seahawks and Huskies in football. The Mariners, well, they haven’t made the playoffs in 20 years, and the Sounders and Storm were knocked out early in the playoffs.

Now the thing with Amy is that she’s a pretty laid back sports fan. But when I mentioned the early elimination of the Sounders in the playoffs, she stopped me.

“I can tell you who the Sounders players are,” she said, unrolling the names of Raul Ruidiaz, Jordan Morris, Stefan Frei and even Nouhou. “But I can’t tell you the name of a single Kraken player.”

I was a little impressed that she knew the Sounders so well. I mean, I briefly covered them and even wrote a book about them several years ago. But we’re not really discussing whether Brian Schmetzer made the right substitution in the 70th minute.

Had she perhaps read my book?

No, that wasn’t it, she assured. It’s just marketing. She follows the team’s Facebook page and has seen these players appear over the years on TV in public service announcements and on billboards around town. They all seem like pretty cool guys who really care about the city, she told me.

“If you want me to care about your team, I have to know who the players are,” she told me. “It’s hard to care about the Kraken when I don’t know who they are. “

It wasn’t the first time I heard this.

In completely random polls of my sports-obsessed friends and colleagues, most find it difficult to name more than one or two Kraken players, if so. Brandon Tanev is a bit of an exception, with his flowing hair and the bulging face he made when he took the lead in his team. Combined with his hardworking approach and unexpected goals, you can see why he would stand out.

And the name of goalkeeper Philipp Grubauer elicits a “Gruuuuu!” Home crowd reaction when he stops a puck, so it’s probably only a matter of time before even casual fans get the hang of it. Not that they can pick it from a queue, but it’s a start.

An acquaintance, who has season tickets for the Kraken and other local teams, ran into Amy and I at a weekend event, and we mentioned that she didn’t know the players.

“Oh, you have to come to a game,” he said. “It’s completely different once you’re in the arena. “

Which is very true but misses the point. First you need to give the occasional non-fanatic hockey fan a reason to go to the arena. And judging by the empty seats I’ve seen more and more among the 17,151 sold-out late-night spectators and the drop in Kraken ticket prices on online resale exchanges, it hasn’t been so automatic. provided that.

Believe me, I know the Kraken has only been playing for a few months, and some players should indeed become better known over time. Players have commented after recent games that they feel a bond is forming with the fans inside the arena, and that’s good news.

But honestly, it feels like we could do more.

The Kraken ownership and management team have done a phenomenal job of incorporating the franchise’s stylized ‘S’ logo with its singular glowing red eye on the brains of local citizens. You can’t go anywhere in Seattle without seeing this logo on t-shirts, baseball caps, water bottles, barbecue covers, key chains, baby pacifiers, and dog leashes.

But can someone without a season pass tell you Kraken defender Jamie Oleksiak’s nickname? By the way, it’s “Big Rig,” and its 6-foot-7, 255-pound frame generates some of the loudest off-goal cheers inside the arena whenever it’s deployed on a. opposing player.

You only get one chance for a first impression. And the Kraken have that right now as the only remaining local professional sports team – sorry, Seahawks fans – with a chance to do anything with their current season.

What worries me is that this kind of player anonymity has long followed the NHL, which at times seems too content to remain the fourth men’s sports circuit in North America. The league, which dates back to my childhood in Canada, has been berated forever by fans and players for not marketing its game and its stars enough.

NHL defenders suggest that hockey is a team sport first, where the humility of being part of a squad replaces that of individual glory.

But my cynical side remembers how the NHL has used this mindset for generations to cut player salaries. Wealthy team owners got even richer by telling star players that they were nothing more than replaceable widgets.

So the “team first” excuse doesn’t really ring a bell. Anyone who has any knowledge of the NHL before, say, 2010 knows how selfish it is.

There are a lot of interesting Kraken players, even potential All-Stars, namely Jordan Eberle, Jaden Schwartz and Jared McCann. Entertaining dynamos like Yanni Gourde. Intrepid shot blockers like Adam Larsson. Hopefully one day more people will know their names.

Right now, they feel under-sold. It’s as if the Kraken are using the NHL’s playbook to market them, rather than their innovative approach that set records in merchandising sales when the team logo was introduced.

But it’s not the same as the Vegas Golden Knights four years ago. This expansion team entered a market devoid of additional major sporting competitions and was an instant draw to win straight away.

The Kraken has many more local sports competitions. And if the NBA returns, they will have more. They’ve already shown that they won’t win enough right away to be an automatic draw like Vegas was.

So they have to work harder. On and off the ice.

And just as the Kraken players have worked to forge an ‘identity’ on the ice behind which they can rally, those responsible for the team’s off-ice identity must do more to capitalize on this limited opportunity in the spotlight. sportsmen of the city.

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