Steve Mayer pledges to “show the world how cool Seattle is” when the Kraken finally picks its players in a nationally televised broadcast of July’s expansion draft.
As the NHL’s chief content officer and executive vice president, Mayer is tasked with putting that July 21 broadcast together from a main outdoor hub stage at a to-be-disclosed location within the city.
Beyond that main stage, where anchors from ESPN or Turner Sports will be situated with various guests, there will be adjacent IMAX video screens showing the broadcast. The hope is to have surrounding temporary seating areas built for fans.
The league and Kraken are planning, with Seattle-based events company Hotopp Associates, to have a secondary stage built elsewhere. And for about five to 10 remote satellite feed locations with stages of varying sizes to be set up as additional fan “watching points” near city landmarks — think Pike Place Market or the Space Needle — that cameras will cut to throughout the show.
“We’re going to show off Seattle in what I think is a significant way to the rest of the world,” Mayer said, adding he wants the show to be a live “festival” and an entertainment event that goes beyond talking heads discussing hockey. “While at the same time, it gives a new opportunity for the Kraken fans to be there in person as the team is selected.”
Turner Sports was announced last week as the league’s secondary TV partner, with ESPN having secured the main rights in March. Mayer said he should have a better idea within the next week or two which of the networks — replacing longstanding NHL rights-holder NBC after this season — will handle the live broadcast of either 60 or 90 minutes in length.
Kraken general manager Ron Francis will be on the main set to announce some of his 30 draft picks of players from other NHL teams. But Mayer and the Kraken also plan for additional picks to possibly be announced by well-known local figures and celebrity guests, with local musical acts possibly playing for the crowd as well.
Mayer said Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, one of the team’s main owners, will help in procuring some of the bigger names for the league’s show. Kraken senior vice president Katie Townsend, the team executive in charge of TV and media endeavors, said a list of names is being finalized and invites extended.
The league also hopes to fly in up to four or five players to be on hand when picked. Much will depend on how close to draft day Francis has the bulk of his picks and side deals finalized.
In 2017, when the Vegas Golden Knights held their expansion draft, veteran Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was present when his name was called.
The location of the main stage has been selected but hasn’t been announced, because permits are being finalized with the city. It won’t be at Seattle Center, adjacent to the team’s still-under-renovation Climate Pledge Arena home, though that location could be featured as one of the iconic secondary hubs on the broadcast.
ROOT Sports Northwest, the team’s regional sports network partner, has met with the NHL to discuss producing pre- and post-draft local shows bookended around the league-run broadcast. There could also be local TV broadcast segments interspersed within the national broadcast during commercial breaks.
Townsend said it’s possible other local TV stations besides ROOT Sports could participate.
“I think there’s a huge opportunity pre-and-post for local networks and for us to do something with our fans,” Townsend said. “By that time there will be a ton of analysis to do, because we’ll know who our players are.”
Townsend said the Kraken wants to “showcase the region” by expanding location shots to other regions and states, including Alaska and Oregon, within the team’s designated geographical territory. Announcements on site locations are planned once permitting is finalized, and after the league and team have a better idea on the COVID-19 situation and limitations on public gatherings.
Some secondary broadcast locations could be indoors, depending on what health authorities allow.
“It remains fluid,” Townsend said. “We’re working on it with state and local health officials, and they’ll let us know what we can and can’t do.”
Hotopp owner Gary Wichansky, whose Green Lake-based company has spent the past month planning show locations, concepts, sets, lighting and other physical production components, is also eager to hear how far they’ll be allowed to take their ideas. Wichansky has a business relationship with NHL executive Mayer dating back years, and Hotopp handled physical production work for last summer’s NHL playoffs at the COVID-19 bubble zones in Edmonton and Toronto.
“We’re really trying to feature the team, and we have a chance to show off the city to the country and to hockey fans around the world,” Wichansky said.
To do so, his company scouted various locations — wanting the main stage and video screens viewable by distant crowds as well as anyone nearby. Seattle Center has the public space needed, but the up-close camera visuals weren’t as striking as locations elsewhere.
“We want this to be a party,” Wichansky said, adding: “We think of it more of like — I don’t want to say a variety show — but it’s likely there’s going to be entertainment woven in, or the celebrity appearances. Things that will resonate with a national audience and a local audience. That’s why the Super Bowl halftime show is such a big deal. It’s just that mixture of entertainment.”
The NHL’s expansion draft was never a “made for TV” event before the 2017 version in Las Vegas, where the league also happened to hold its annual awards show. Mayer helped produce that draft by combining it within the awards show, but the challenge this time — with just the one event and not two — was to plan something just as entertaining.
“There will be an entertainment piece to this, and some of it will make its way on to the TV show, and others will just be for the fans in attendance,” he said. “But what we want to do is make this into an event. And whether you make it to the main stage or one of the substages, we want as many people as are allowed. We want people to take this in and say they were there.”