How the Seattle Kraken Became the NHL’s Best-Selling Expansion Team Overnight

League's newest franchise sifted through 1,200 names to pick a winner and develop its branding

Seattle Kraken

After an excruciatingly thorough 18-month process, the highly-anticipated 32nd National Hockey League franchise’s name and branding finally dropped last week with a thunderous cinematic trailer. And within 24 hours, the Kraken became the NHL’s best-selling expansion team. Fanatics reported it sold 50% more in merchandise than the previous high set in 2017 by the Vegas Golden Knights.

That success took years of research, countless branding experts, consultants and thousands of fans. The franchise wanted to ensure its identity connected with locals but had the broad appeal to reach a global audience. And according to sports branding and marketing experts, the Kraken nailed its design and debut.

“[The team] created an extensive narrative to outline the why to casual fans, not just of hockey but of popular culture, that helped them gain a share of voice that launches of these type sometimes lack,” said Joseph Favorito, a longtime sports marketing consultant and professor at Columbia University.

Developing the lure of the Kraken

Katie Townsend, svp of marketing and communications, Seattle Kraken, said that to settle on a name, the franchise consulted a number of experts and figureheads, including majority owner David Bonderman, general manager and former Canadian professional hockey player Ron Francis Jr., fans, naming experts, historians, the NHL and local brand agencies and artists. They sifted through 1,200 names, eventually selecting the mythical deep-sea terror to represent the franchise.

“We wanted the name to connect to the powerful pull of nature here in the Pacific Northwest and resonate with the fervor for hockey in our city and region,” said Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke in a statement.

The team, Adidas and Seattle-based creative agency Perch Partners also reviewed about a hundred logo designs, as well as four color combinations, to come up with the final product: a beveled “S” with a slithering tentacle and a menacing red eye, shaded in and backdropped in a palette of Deep Sea, Ice Blue, Boundless Blue, Shadow Blue and Red Alert.

According to Heidi Dettmer, the Kraken’s vp of marketing, fans heavily influenced the naming process. The team’s leadership felt strongly that its supporters should be brought into the process. Because the team put out public requests for ideas in mid-2018, the Kraken’s marketing team was able to set up nearly 50 in-person fan forums. Fans could also take part in the selection via an online portal.

The team tapped naming experts to look at how suggestions that felt local would look on page, the imagery they evoked and how they would look carved on the Stanley Cup.

“We are a city built on the sea, and it’s something that Seattleites are really proud of,” Dettmer said. “So I think the mythology and the excitement of what is kind of in the deepest, darkest parts of the sea is just really relevant to this community. And then, the beast itself, the Kraken, really represents the kind of energy and tenacity of the game of hockey and how it’s played today.”

The Kraken wouldn’t disclose what the final five runner-up names were. Those choices have been put in a time capsule inside the Space Needle that will be opened in 50 years.

Releasing the Kraken in unprecedented times

Covid-19 slowed down the process, but the team had already completed the development and approval stages of the Kraken identity in early 2020. As the pandemic and later the Black Lives Matter protests unfolded, Dettmer said, the team had to find the right opportunity to make a splash without detracting from those more important conversations.

“We saw a window this week to make the announcement because sports are returning to play, and the NHL is being talked about,” she said. “But, we were also ready to pivot and suspend launch if affairs in our country had shifted.”

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