In conversation with Seattle Kraken
One hundred years after the Seattle Metropolitans won the Stanley Cup, tens of thousands of regional hockey fans are clamoring for the chance to cheer on the Seattle Kraken in their quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup. The Kraken won’t hit the ice until at least fall 2021 (depending on the shortened ’20-’21 season), which means regular season play is only months away, with an expansion draft on the horizon to select players, followed by training camp, regular season play, and eventually hosting the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and other league stars in the Climate Pledge Arena (formerly known as Key Arena).
Sports fans in Eastern Washington—from casual to diehard—have embraced the likes of the Storm, Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders, and more. Fans from the Spokane region travel back and forth for games, listen on the radio, pack into sports bars, proudly sport their gear, and compete to show off knowledge of stats. But the Seattle Kraken provide a unique opportunity for fandom; their trajectory feels akin to the Sounders. Like soccer, hockey has a base of passionate fans who tout their sport as the greatest on earth but are often dismissed by other sports fans who don’t consider hockey or soccer to be one of “the bigs” like the NFL, MLB, and NBA/WNBA. Just as the Sounders were able to activate the most passionate fans and draw in those curious to learn more, it appears that the Kraken may work off a similar playbook.
In 2018, the organization held a season ticket drive to gauge the level of fan interest and demonstrate to the NHL that expanding into a new market would be worth it. They hoped to break the record set by the Vegas Golden Knights—the previous expansion team—who sold their first five thousand season-ticket deposits in two days. Seattle aimed to hit ten thousand deposits. As it turned out, demand exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations. Within twelve minutes, they’d reached their goal. Forty-five minutes later, they hit twenty-five thousand depositors, and soon after that, had to start a waitlist.
Progress continues to accelerate. In 2020, the Seattle Kraken revealed the team’s name and branding, hired various key staff, continued the arena renovation, began building a practice facility in Northgate, and much more. As the 2021 countdown to NHL play returning to Washington begins, I spoke with Heidi Dettmer, VP of Marketing and Broadcast for the Kraken, to learn more about the team’s vision for engaging Eastern Washington fans, their stated goal to support youth hockey and women’s hockey statewide, and more. The following excerpts from our conversation have been edited for clarity.
I imagine the past year has been fast and furious for the team. What is the status of the season ticket seat selection process?
We are overwhelmed and overjoyed by the positive response. The stories of the fans are incredible; really cool ties to hockey and hockey history, from people of all backgrounds. We’re thrilled with seat selection.
Are you able to share how many Spokane-area fans have secured season tickets, either for a full season package (forty-four games) or half season (twenty-two games)?
I can give you a rough outline! Between January and March, we’ll probably come out and announce that season ticket selection is completed, and at that point we’ll have had a chance to examine the numbers. But of the original depositors, I know at least a few hundred are from the Spokane area. I’m not sure of the geographic breakdown of the waitlist; there may be a lot more on there.
Do you anticipate seeing a lot of single-game ticket sales to Spokane-area fans?
I’d be curious what our ticket sales group would say about that. Logically, just knowing the sports fans in the region, that makes sense. I know that Spokane really is a hockey town. I’ve been to Chiefs games, they’re a blast, and I know people east of the mountains who flood their backyards to play, since it’s cold enough for you to do that sometimes, which is so great. I actually have a lot of family in Spokane—aunts and uncles and cousins. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen them, but it’s such a great place. I love Spokane.
With your experience working for other teams, including the Seahawks, Sounders, and Washington Youth Soccer, what strategies have you used before to engage fans statewide, and what’s the vision for how the Kraken will reach out to sports fans in Eastern Washington?
I would say that more than any other team I’ve previously worked for, this is truly a regional team. We are looking beyond just Seattle, and Spokane is a huge piece of that, as well as Anchorage and even down to Portland. From the beginning, we always identified ourselves as a team for the entire region to embrace.
We’ve kicked around this idea a lot of a hockey road tour, similar to the Seahawks’ 12 Tour. Let’s visit the local rinks, let’s go to the hockey bar, let’s get in there and experience the community and engage with people. We know it’s a hockey market, and we’re excited about it. It’s hard right now with COVID-19, but that’s the plan. There are some really great players that have come out of this region, and it’d be fun to celebrate that, too.
Our broadcast deals aren’t inked, but a priority is to have the viewing experience at home feel unique to fans in Anchorage, Spokane, and Portland, to make it clear they’re a key part of the fan base. We’re still figuring it out but we’re working hard to make that broadcast experience really premium.
Overall, Tod (Leiweke) has made a career out of listening to the fans, so I’m sure he will be so excited to hear more from fans in Spokane.
What else is in the works to engage fans?
My team is really focused on the membership program. I can’t wait to engage with fans on a more personal level. We’re learning ways to be innovative through digital events, and it’s been exciting to see how digital events can scale. I love that we’re able to broaden our reach that way. Fans love the community aspect of sports; it’s so much fun to go to a sports bar or go over to your friends’ or family’s house to watch games together, so we’re thinking hard about how to recreate that experience from home. We’ve looked at a lot of memberships, both in sports and out of sports, and I think what we’ll be able to create is really personalized content and engagement. We want to deliver something that feels special and elevated for fans.
During this NHL season (leading up to ’21-’22), we’ll continue to do some fun things. During playoffs, we asked fans to vote on which game they wanted us to live-tweet. We’ve been doing a lot of hockey education for casual fans and newcomers: trivia, Hockey 101, and special content like conversations between Everett Fitzhugh, our broadcaster, trainers, scouts, and other folks around the league. Everett is fantastic; I can’t say enough good things about him, and fans are responding. I think we can have so much fun around expansion draft speculation. And there are lots of milestones to be had still: Are we going to have a mascot? If so, when to roll it out? Fans have seen the jersey design, but when will that roll out to the market? Hiring a head coach will be a big milestone, and the TV play-by-play announcer. So many exciting things coming.
The organization has said it wants to grow the game statewide and regionally. What will that look like?
Access and inclusivity are everything. Hockey is not traditionally a diverse sport, so it’s important to serve community members who don’t have the same access to equipment and ice. We’ll be putting a lot of effort into youth hockey programs in general, to really grow the game. That work is being led by Mari Horita, our VP of Community Engagement and Social Impact, and Kyle Boyd, Director of Youth and Community Development. Some of the ideas so far include delivering curriculum to elementary schools, supporting regional learn-to-play programs, expanding on things like floor ball, and more. You’ll see a lot of efforts being put into youth hockey programs across the state and helping to support the rinks that already exist across the region by drawing interest in playing among youth. So, I think we’ll see a lot of community partnerships around those efforts.
We definitely have a good base of avid fans who are really knowledgeable about hockey, but we also have this broader base of casual fans who know a little about a lot of sports but maybe don’t know hockey deeply, and so I do think we have this unique opportunity to have some fun, engage with fans, do some Hockey 101. For not having an NHL team in the last 100 years, you could say that we’re a non-traditional hockey market, but it gives us an opportunity to really elevate the game and expand access across the region.
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