Word that KCPQ FOX 13 will soon launch a weekly half-hour "What's Kraken?" show comes at a timely moment for an improved NHL team looking to broaden in-market fan support while still grappling with flat ratings on ROOT Sports.
ROOT higher-ups remain perplexed by game broadcasts rating among the bottom third of U.S.-based NHL teams, having gone big on a crew led by longtime national broadcasters John Forslund and Ed Olczyck alongside improving and popular former player JT Brown. Throw in multitalented reporter Piper Shaw — an aspiring musician who recently released songs on Spotify — and analytics specialist Alison Lukan along with Olczyk's son, Nick, as a studio analyst and it's tough to find a more comprehensive local NHL broadcast.
Yet ratings largely mirror last February and March, when Kraken play ranked among the NHL's worst compared with this season's 27-14-5 squad.
The Kraken by early last week were averaging just a 0.68 season rating in the Seattle-Tacoma marketplace. That ranked 16th of 23 U.S.-based NHL teams — data for Carolina and Nashville weren't available — in ratings by Nielsen Media Research.
So ratings have yet to follow the team's improved fortunes on the ice.
"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't always make it watch hockey," a well-placed broadcast industry source familiar with the situation quipped, calling the ratings "baffling" to a degree.
The source opined that Seattle's competitive sports market probably hasn't helped and that the Kraken must capitalize on this upcoming stretch alone in the spotlight.
"These next two or three months will be very telling," the source said. "You had the Mariners finally making the playoffs and the Seahawks — well, they tend to suck the oxygen out of the local sports scene to begin with, and they made the playoffs when they weren't even supposed to.
"But now the Kraken are all by themselves. The focus will be all on them."
The Kraken's season launched in Anaheim the same week the Mariners played Houston in the American League Division Series. The Kraken notched a season-high 1.6 rating across 34,250 households in that opener on an off day between Mariners games.
But they registered just 0.7 their second game the same day the Mariners played. Then 0.4 in their home opener against Vegas with the Mariners playing across town in a 1-0, 18-inning loss.
When the Seahawks played Carolina on Dec. 11, the Kraken pulled a season-low 0.1 rating across 2,645 households in a road win over Florida. They garnered just 0.3 that week at Carolina while the Seahawks hosted San Francisco.
Even when the Kraken weren't competing head-to-head with local teams, the Seahawks and Mariners dominated media coverage.
Though it's tough to find fault with Kraken broadcasts, some industry veterans suggest a lack of local personalities might also be dragging on ratings. The ROOT crew is mostly imported and lacks faces casual local sports fans might instantly recognize.
That's where the FOX 13 "What's Kraken?" segments of interviews and features, debuting Feb. 8 and co-hosted by FOX 13 sports anchor Aaron Levine and Sports Radio KJR host Ian Furness, could broaden the team's exposure. Additional Fox 13 Kraken coverage will see a "Hockey 101" segment on "Good Day Seattle" hosted by anchor Bill Wixey. FOX 13 anchor Alyssa Charlston and digital reporter Curtis Crabtree will also contribute.
KCPQ is also free with a basic antenna setup, unlike ROOT's cable subscription model. And more people becoming familiar with the Kraken should improve the franchise's success and could drive viewers to pay for ROOT broadcasts.
One thing worth mentioning: Nielsen in January 2022 began counting "broadband only" homes — those streaming content via the internet — in its ratings alongside traditional TV watchers.
That seemingly would help Kraken ratings in this popular "cord cutter" market, but the opposite is true. A ratings point equals 1% of a market's measured homes. By including broadband households, Nielsen enlarged the size of the market being measured, but the Kraken broadcast share within it dropped because not all streaming services carry regional sports networks such as ROOT.
This also somewhat skews the Kraken's NHL ranking. Nielsen has Seattle tied with Atlanta for the nation's highest percentage of in-market "broadband only" households at 41.2% while Pittsburgh was lowest at 23.7%.
So Seattle sports programming gets penalized most by the new methodology and Pittsburgh the least. Interestingly, the Pittsburgh Penguins' 4.86 rating leads all U.S. NHL teams.
Now, the Penguins perform consistently well and likely would lead the rankings regardless. But seven times better than Kraken ratings? It's become tougher to gauge the true gap.
Kraken president Victor de Bonis takes an optimistic view, given his team is trying to break into an established sports market. De Bonis said he's seen encouraging ratings lately and hopes the Kraken surpass 1.0 by season's end — which would likely rank top 10 among U.S. squads.
"At this point in time, we're going head-to-head with these established franchises in this market, so we're feeling pretty good about that," de Bonis said of ratings garnered amid Seahawks and Mariners playoff runs. "And as the team has been performing better, we're getting 1.0's now, which would put us in the top 10 of the league. Which, for a brand-new franchise here, we're extremely happy about."
Still, there's work ahead to jump from 0.68 to 1.0 — which effectively means doubling viewership from here.
Things picked up the final three games of 2022, with ratings of 1.1, 1.1 and 0.9, but the Kraken still ended December averaging 0.6 across 13,486 households. Last season, with the new Nielsen system implemented, the Kraken's worst TV months in February and March drew 0.6 ratings in each across 12,776 and 13,237 households, respectively.
Even returning home last week riding an eight-game win streak, the Kraken drew a 0.8 for a holiday matinee against Tampa Bay, 0.9 in Edmonton, then 0.6 at home facing New Jersey and Colorado.
Through December of last season, the Kraken reached an average of 27,575 households per game — about double their current audience. Curious fans apparently took an initial look before vanishing as the Kraken fell from contention.
With the Kraken now winning, they need to lure those curiosity seekers back. But how? More mainstream exposure. The FOX 13 deal helps. So do public events such as the team's skills competition Sunday. Oh, and keep winning during this exclusive window.
The ratings suggest the team's initial novelty quickly wore off. Now, the Kraken must keep working off the ice and hope the novelty of a playoff hunt generates additional interest.