Two years ago, when Katie Townsend and her colleagues arrived at work, they found a note stuck to the front door of their Seattle office. It had three words on it: "Release the Kraken." Nearly a year after the note incident, the city's newly minted NHL team was named...the Seattle Kraken.
Notegate isn't why our hockey team honors a giant cephalopod instead of, say, a salmon or a certain green gemstone, but it is another example of just how passionate Seattle's hockey devotees are, says Townsend, the Kraken's senior vice president of marketing and communications. (For the record, their review of potential monikers included evaluating "names that resonate with fans" and posing questions like, "how did it sound, how could it be incorporated into a chant, how could it be brought to life in merchandise?")
For hockey die-hards, the ones who likely have allegiances to other NHL teams, Townsend's job is pretty straightforward. Appeal to their love of the sport, and hope for the proximity principle to take effect. "They want to belong and have a sense of community," she explains. "It's OK if we're your second team, but we want the Kraken to now be your first team."
Live games, fan experiences, online content, off-ice events? Avid fans are into it. "They're interested in 95 percent of what we do." It's the non-fans, the ones who don't really care about sports, let alone some guys chasing a vulcanized rubber disc around on a sheet of ice, that Townsend says are the trickiest to convert.
To win over those "casual fans," as they're dubbed in marketing speak, the Kraken marketing play is more of a long game. Weaving Hockey 101 explainers into social media and other branded materials is one step. Making covetable team merch in the hopes that non-fans will see it everywhere and eventually "wear it if it's cool" is another.
But really, the best conversion tool is out of Townsend's hands. "We talk about the playoffs as an opportunity to see new fanbases start to engage because that's such a great time to watch hockey and learn hockey," she says. "Seeing live hockey is one of the biggest converters."
Townsend would know. She joined the Kraken with zero knowledge of the sport, but now marvels, "There is something about the speed and elegance of the game when you watch it live and you see what the players can do. It’s like, Wow, this is pretty amazing." Spoken like a true fan.