By Nathan Tucker
On Thursday, July 23, the Seattle expansion team joining the National Hockey League in 2021 unveiled its name, logos and colors to the public. The club will be known as the Seattle Kraken, after a malevolent mythical monster of the deep sea.
Unlike hundreds if not thousands of other articles you can find online on this topic, I intentionally did not title this “Release The Kraken”. Surely that phrase won’t be overused by the time the team actually plays a hockey game.
The legend of the Kraken and Seattle dates all the way back to 1884. Norwegian fisherman claimed the Kraken “measured a mile and a half across the back”, and somewhat resembled a large cuttlefish. In many depictions, the Kraken is stylized as a gargantuan octopus.
When Seattle was awarded the expansion NHL franchise in Dec 2018, the Kraken name was literally stuck to the team’s first office space. From then on, the name “Seattle Kraken” was almost inevitable.
“The first time in our office, we put up our NHL Seattle sign on the front door. And the very next morning there was a Post-it on the door that said, ‘Release the Kraken,’” Heidi Dettmer, the franchise’s Vice President of Marketing, told The Associated Press. “So it’s definitely something that we’ve heard almost as a rallying cry.”
The team’s main logo, a stylized “S” with a Kraken tentacle that also represents the Puget Sound, was carefully crafted to be “authentic” to Seattle. The alternate logo is perhaps a more spot-on representation of Seattle, an anchor, but also the city’s famed Space Needle.
Like many expansion franchises in the modern era, the unveiling of the team comes with a wordy, often trying-too-hard “brand identity” that explains every aspect of the team’s appearance and look. These “brand identities” often try to connect aspects of a team’s appearance to varying details of a city or region.
To quote the team’s “Logo Anatomy” for example:
“Seattle is a city built by the sea. Our forebears’ hands cracked in the cold, salty air as they reeled in their lines and wrought their ships. The clean bevel of a freshly carved vessel is a reminder of where we come from. A noble city built on the water by bold and hardened adventurers.”
Those 55 words above describe how one part of the “S” logo is a lighter shade of blue than the other blue. The Kraken’s Logo Anatomy includes four different points of interest, including the above, all “authentically Seattle” as Heidi Dettmer explained to The Associated Press.
“We wanted to make sure it was truly authentic to Seattle and being a city built by the sea — both figuratively and literally — it works really, really well,” Dettmer said. “We’ve got the Puget Sound that’s the waterfront of our city that has these deep, dark waters that are a little mysterious as well.
“So you tie in that kind of local Seattle flavor, our maritime history, with the fans’ rallying cry, is one of the ways in the discovery phase that we got to this name.”
In the modern era of expansion sports franchises, design firms, apparel firms and several focus groups and fan votes play a role in creating the identity of a new team. What results is “authenticity” created virtually in a lab, separated from what people truly want in their team.
Here in St. Louis, whenever the XFL’s BattleHawks were unveiled, they and other XFL teams released a similar “brand identity” scheme. Months after the XFL’s demise, I’m still not sure how a sword with wings represents the city.
Startup branding/design culture has penetrated the sports world, and now sports teams have to be more than Lions, Tigers and Bears. Teams are now expected to not just represent the city on the playing field, but their design itself must represent a city, geography, history, blah blah blah.
While design and marketing types can celebrate this integration of sports and branding strategy, normal people outside of that world couldn’t care less beyond the logos and colors looking good or not.
Normal people aren’t concerned about if the “S” logo represents the maritime history of Seattle and the Norwegian fishermen who spread the Kraken tale. They’re just saying it looks like the pointy “S” that every seventh grader drew in their notebook instead of paying attention in their English class.