Seattle Kraken defensemen Jamie Oleksiak (24) and Will Borgen (3) celebrate a goal by center Matty Beniers (10) against the Buffalo Sabres during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, in Buffalo, N.Y. (Jeffrey T. Barnes / The Associated Press)

Seattle Kraken defensemen Jamie Oleksiak (24) and Will Borgen (3) celebrate a goal by center Matty Beniers (10) against the Buffalo Sabres during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, in Buffalo, N.Y. (Jeffrey T. Barnes / The Associated Press)

Kraken leaving ROOT Sports for new TV and streaming deals

Seattle’s NHL games are moving to KING 5 and KONG, where they’ll be free for local viewers.

  • Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times
  • Thursday, April 25, 2024 3:53pm
  • SportsKraken

SEATTLE — In a landmark move, the Seattle Kraken announced Thursday they’ve ended their ROOT Sports partnership in favor of showing games for free over the air next season with Tegna-owned stations locally as well as through Amazon Prime streaming across three states.

KING 5 becomes the team’s official television partner in the multi-year deal and will simulcast more than 15 of the 70-plus non-nationally televised Kraken games to be aired on its KONG sister station in Seattle, as well as Tegna-owned affiliates in Spokane and Portland, Ore. Tegna will work with additional broadcast companies in Washington, Oregon and Alaska to further distribute games throughout those three states, which will already be covered by the streaming deal that makes the broadcasts available to all Amazon Prime members.

“We are going to provide more opportunities for folks to access our game and our team,” Kraken president Victor de Bonis said in an interview, adding the team will produce its own broadcasts while Tegna distributes them. “We’re breaking down some of the barriers that have existed in the past by going back to the future with an over-the-air product and also providing a streaming product that will cover the vast majority of our broadcast territory in those three states.

“So, we’re hopeful that people will be able to participate more and experience this great game and fall more in love with our team.”

The 70-plus games shown on KONG and other Tegna stations and streamed by Amazon Prime replace those previously held by ROOT Sports, which included all contests except for national broadcasts of Kraken games reserved exclusively for ESPN, TNT and ABC. They will also include Kraken preseason games and any first-round playoff contests they are involved in.

The move to break from the regional sports network (RSN) model used by Mariners-owned ROOT Sports in favor of showing games on free channels — or through limited streaming costs — has gained in popularity among NHL teams the past year. The Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes saw huge viewership increases from broadcasting over-the-air last season after being forced to sever ties with imploding RSN deals.

Those teams created their own streaming platforms to additionally distribute games for a nominal cost of roughly $1 per contest.

The Kraken’s new streaming deal is the first between an NHL team and Amazon, the Seattle-based online retailer that owns naming rights at Climate Pledge Arena and whose CEO, Andy Jassy, is a minority Kraken owner. Unlike the Arizona and Vegas streaming platforms, existing Amazon Prime users will automatically have Kraken games included within their $14.99 monthly or $139 yearly membership cost and won’t have to subscribe for any add-on service.

De Bonis said the team will be keep play-by-play man John Forslund, color analysts Eddie Olczyk and JT Brown and additional on-air personalities Nick Olczyk and Alison Lukan in-place — as all are Kraken employees — while exploring future options with ROOT Sports game reporter Piper Shaw. Forslund was a rumored candidate for the Boston Bruins broadcasting vacancy.

“I’m with the Seattle Kraken,” Forslund said. “This is my dream job. I work in the National Hockey League. I work for the Seattle Kraken and I get to do national games. How much bigger a dream can I get?”

Beyond showing the games, KING 5 will produce additional content that includes a weekly Kraken variety show — replacing the one done by Q13 the past season — with what the team and station say will be unique and unprecedented behind-the-scenes access.

“I’m really excited about all of the other content as well because we’ve done numerous specials and series here in the past that focused on the team even before they got to town,” KING 5 general manager Christy Moreno said in an interview. “So, for us to continue that storytelling is really, really exciting.”

Moreno said the Kraken content would carry over to other KING 5 programming, with content primarily led by sports director Paul Silvi and reporter Chris Egan.

“We’re going to have unprecedented access to the team, the players, the coaches and really take people behind the scenes in a way they haven’t been before,” Moreno said.

There is a significantly lower financial difference between annual rights fees previously paid the Kraken by ROOT Sports as part of their initial five-year deal and what they are guaranteed through this venture. One industry source had pegged that prior rights fee amount at roughly $20 million per year.

Going over-the-air makes the new venture heavily dependent on advertising revenue, though bigger ratings through more people watching the free channels instead of paying a monthly cable fee could narrow the difference. The Kraken also stand to reap more gains through merchandise sales and sponsorships if they can grow their overall fan base.

The RSN model had been slowly leaking viewership the past decade as mainly younger viewers “cut” the cable TV cord in favor of streaming services. That left fewer TV viewers to absorb the increasing cost of televising live sports through an RSN. The bulk of those viewers don’t even generally watch sports, but were forced to pay anyway through bundle packages that included mandatory RSN content.

As more viewers revolted and threatened to drop subscriptions, the cable companies began cutting RSN content from basic bundling — hastening the model’s decline in unexpected fashion. Bankruptcies and early deal terminations between teams and some RSN entities began early last year. Last fall, hours before the Kraken season opener, Comcast Xfinity pushed ROOT Sports to a higher-tiered bundle package that cost viewers more money to watch Kraken and Mariners games.

Many tuned out altogether.

The Mariners were unhappy because fewer viewers meant already-stagnant TV ratings for Kraken games made it tougher for ROOT Sports to recoup its yearly Kraken rights fee investment. And the Kraken were equally upset, as ROOT Sports becoming more expensive to watch made it tougher to gain new fans and build off momentum gained from last spring’s run deep into the second round of the playoffs.

“ROOT has been a terrific partner for us; we have appreciated their support as we determined our broadcast plans moving forward,” Kraken owner Sam Holloway said in a release put out by the team. “Today’s announcement is a game changer for our fans. Our goal is to increase the ways they can watch our games — whether they’re cheering us on at home or on the go.”

De Bonis agreed the Mariners were “great to work with” as ROOT Sports partners and that the decision to part ways just three seasons into a five-year deal was mutual and amicable. The Mariners have yet to divulge future plans for their RSN, though they’ve committed to showing the baseball team’s games on ROOT Sports through this season.

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