Taking two giant steps toward delivering live NHL hockey to fans, the Seattle Kraken announced their TV broadcast partner and play-by-play announcer Tuesday. Under a multi-year agreement, the ROOT SPORTS regional network will carry approximately 75 Kraken games across Washington, Oregon and Alaska. The exact number of games each 82-game season will be minus any contests airing nationally in league TV rights deals.
Announcing those ROOT SPORTS telecasts will be--get ready for fun and informative game calls, Kraken fans-nationally renowned and fan favorite John Forslund, who has been calling NHL games since 1995. The award-winning announcer is familiar to hockey fans as a main personality for NBC national games, as well as the voice of the Hartford Whalers and, upon moving the franchise, the Carolina Hurricanes.
"ROOT SPORTS is already home to the Mariners and their fan base," said Tod Leiweke, Kraken CEO. "The Kraken's partnership with ROOT SPORTS gives our fans a familiar home around the Pacific Northwest in one of the largest territories in all of sports. It was important to us for games to be widely distributed in our five broadcast states."
Another major factor for making the decision to go with ROOT SPORTS: The distribution agreement "will help us ensure that Kraken games will be on at every sports bar and restaurant in the Pacific Northwest," said Leiweke.
Video: Kraken Partner with ROOT SPORTS, Sign John Forslund
ROOT SPORTS is a joint venture between the Seattle Mariners and AT&T Sports Networks covering the five-state footprint. While ROOT SPORTS is clearly conversant with Pacific Northwest sports fans, its executives and producers at AT&T also have extensive previous hockey experience broadcasting the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins and Vegas Golden Knights, the league's most recent expansion team, on other AT&T regional networks.
"I live in Seattle and I'm from the Pacific Northwest," said Patrick Crumb, president of AT&T Sports Networks across the U.S. "I have personally been witnessing the anticipation of the new hockey team. It's an amazing story. The city is clearly thrilled to welcome the Kraken. Working with an NHL team from its inception is an incredible opportunity."
"We are thrilled to have to the Kraken join the Mariners on ROOT SPORTS," said John Stanton, chairman and managing partner of the Mariners and board chairman for the ROOT SPORTS network. "This is another step forward in achieving our goal of making ROOT SPORTS the home of 'must see' programming for sports fans throughout our region. Now Northwest sports fans will have a robust, year-round lineup of content they can enjoy on ROOT SPORTS."
Crumb promises coverage of the Kraken will be "heavily focused" on the team: "We have a saying here at the network that 'the team is the star, honor the star.' We see the network as a conduit to the fans."
Forslund will no doubt be a huge connector to fans, as widely noted in huge numbers across social media channels and fan events as a team ambassador for the Carolina Hurricanes, especially as the NHL arrived in a new market. He is the type of broadcast personality that wins fans both on-air and in market, such as emceeing fundraisers or congratulating every participant who runs in a team-sponsored 5K race.
"We did our due diligence [selecting a TV play-by-play announcer]," said Leiweke. "We were looking at the best talent, not just the best talent available. John was always mentioned in the top three by anyone we asked. The fact that John was available is fantastic. Hockey fans got to enjoy him calling the Eastern Conference playoffs last season on national broadcasts."
The Athletic, a popular digital sports platform and highly regarded source of hockey content, conducted a fan survey mixed with expert data analysis last April to determine the best local broadcast across the 31 NHL teams. Carolina and Forslund were voted No. 1.
"John always brings fresh perspective and having him as a voice of our franchise is a big-time win for us and for our fans," said Leiweke. "He will play a major role in introducing hockey to new fans and become a team ambassador for us."
For Forslund, it is a reunion of sorts with Kraken general manager Ron Francis. He called many games with the Hall of Famer Francis on the ice, first with Francis as a visiting player with Pittsburgh and later in Carolina as captain of the Hurricanes, then during Francis' time as GM of the franchise.
"Ron's hands are all over the team [the current Carolina squad considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender]," said Forslund. "He was thorough, respectful and patient with how he built the roster. As a player, Ron competed with such a hockey IQ that I knew he would someday be in position to be an NHL GM. He sees games at a level that others don't. He knows the type of players who succeed in today's game. He embraces analytics. He knows drafting and developing. I am excited and overjoyed to be calling the Kraken games from Day 1."
Forslund will be a steady presence on national NBC and NBC Sports Network this current NHL season and will continue to do some national in the future outside of his duties with the Kraken. He joins fellow team broadcaster, Everett Fitzhugh on radio call, to create a powerful duo for the Pacific Northwest.
"It is an honor to join the Seattle Kraken as their inaugural television voice," said Forslund. "I am looking forward working with Everett. The Kraken fans have already shown they are passionate. I can't wait to get to know them."