NHL

Explores why Kraken’s TV ratings haven’t caught up with improved gameplay

Inside the NHL

Word that KCPQ FOX 13 will soon launch a weekly half-hour “What is the Kraken?” show comes at a timely moment for an improving NHL team looking to expand fan support in the market while still struggling with flat ratings on ROOT Sports.

ROOT higher-ups remain baffled by game broadcast ratings among the bottom third of US-based NHL teams after going big on a team led by longtime national broadcasters John Forslund and Ed Olczyck along with improving and popular former player JT Brown. Throw in multi-talented 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 hard to find a more comprehensive local NHL broadcast.

Still, the ratings largely reflect last February and March, when the Kraken’s play was among the NHL’s worst compared to this season’s 27-14-5 squad.

At the start of last week, the Kraken averaged just a 0.68 season rating in the Seattle-Tacoma market. It ranked 16thth of 23 US-based NHL teams — data for Carolina and Nashville were not available — in ratings by Nielsen Media Research.

So the ratings haven’t yet followed the team’s improved fortunes on the ice.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t always get it to watch hockey,” said a well-placed TV industry source familiar with the situation, calling the ratings “confusing” to some extent.

The source believed that Seattle’s competitive sports market likely hasn’t helped, and that the Kraken will have to capitalize on this upcoming stretch alone in the spotlight.

“The next two or three months will be very telling,” the source said. “You had the Mariners finally make 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 is completely on its own. The focus will be entirely on them.”

The Kraken’s season was launched in Anaheim the same week the Mariners faced Houston in the American League Division Series. The Kraken drew a season-high 1.6 rating across 34,250 households in the opener on a day off between Mariners games.

But they registered just 0.7 their second game on the day the Mariners played. Then 0.4 in their home opener against Vegas, where the Mariners played across town in a 1-0, 18-inning loss.

When the Seahawks played Carolina on Dec. 11, the Kraken drew a season-low 0.1 rating across 2,645 households in a road win over Florida. They went just 0.3 that week in 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.

While it’s hard to find fault with Kraken broadcasts, some industry veterans suggest a lack of local personalities may also weigh on ratings. The ROOT crew is mostly imported and lacks faces that casual local sports fans can instantly recognize.

This is where the FOX 13 “What is the Kraken?” segments of interviews and features, which debuted Feb. 8 and co-hosted by FOX 13 sports anchor Aaron Levine and Sports Radio KJR host Ian Furness, could expand 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 getting familiar with the Kraken should improve the franchise’s success and could drive viewers to pay for ROOT broadcasts.

One thing worth mentioning: In January 2022, Nielsen began counting “broadband-only” homes — those that stream content over the Internet — in its ratings alongside traditional TV viewers.

That would seem to help Kraken’s ratings in this popular “cord cutter” market, but the opposite is true. A rating point corresponds to 1% of a market’s measured homes. By including broadband households, Nielsen expanded the size of the market being measured, but Kraken’s broadcast share within it declined because not all streaming services carry regional sports networks like ROOT.

This also skews the Kraken’s NHL ranking somewhat. Nielsen has Seattle tied with Atlanta for the nation’s highest percentage of “broadband only” households in the market at 41.2%, while Pittsburgh was the lowest at 23.7%.

So Seattle sports programming is penalized the most by the new method and Pittsburgh the least. Interestingly, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ rating of 4.86 leads all American NHL teams.

Now, the Penguins are consistently performing well and will likely lead the standings regardless. But seven times better than Kraken ratings? It has become more difficult to measure the true gap.

Kraken president Victor de Bonis is optimistic as his team tries to break into an established sports market. De Bonis said he’s seen encouraging ratings lately and hopes the Kraken surpasses 1.0 by season’s end — likely ranking in the top 10 among American teams.

“At this point, we’re going head-to-head with these established franchises in this market, so we feel pretty good about that,” de Bonis said of ratings earned amid the Seahawks and Mariners’ playoff runs. “And since the team has performed better, we’re getting 1.0s now, which would put us in the top 10 in the league. Which, for a brand new franchise here, we’re extremely happy about.”

Still, there is work ahead to jump from 0.68 to 1.0 – which effectively means doubling the viewership from here.

Things picked up in the final three games of 2022 with ratings of 1.1, 1.1 and 0.9, but Kraken still ended December with a 0.6 average across 13,486 households. Last season, with the new Nielsen system implemented, Kraken’s worst TV months of February and March drew 0.6 ratings each across 12,776 and 13,237 households, respectively.

Even when they returned home last week on an eight-game winning streak, the Kraken drew 0.8 for a holiday matinee against Tampa Bay, 0.9 in Edmonton, then 0.6 at home against New Jersey and Colorado.

Through December last season, Kraken reached an average of 27,575 households per match – about double their current audience. Curious fans apparently took a first look before disappearing as the Kraken dropped from contention.

Now that the Kraken are winning, they have to lure the curious seekers back. But how? More mainstream exposure. The FOX 13 deal helps. So do public events like the team’s skills competition on Sunday. Oh, and keep winning in this exclusive window.

The ratings suggest that the team’s initial novelty quickly faded. Now the Kraken must continue to work off the ice and hope news of a playoff chase generates further interest.

NHL TV Ratings

TV ratings for US-based NHL teams as of January 13, according to Nielsen Media Research:

Pittsburgh Penguins: 4.86

Buffalo Sabres: 4.78

St. Louis Blues: 3.80

Boston Bruins: 3.66

Minnesota Wild: 2.39

Vegas Golden Knights: 2.18

Tampa Bay Lightning: 2.13

Detroit Red Wings: 1.52

Chicago Blackhawks: 1.04

Washington Capitals: 1.02

Philadelphia Flyers: 0.99

Columbus Blue Jackets: 0.98

New York Rangers: 0.85

Colorado Avalanche: 0.82

Seattle Kraken: 0.68

Dallas Stars: 0.53

San Jose Sharks: 0.39

Florida Panthers: 0.34

Los Angeles Kings: 0.30

New York Islanders: 0.29

New Jersey Devils: 0.27

Arizona Coyotes: 0.22

Anaheim Ducks: 0.10

Note: Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators numbers are not available.

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