As the newest voice in local television sports, John Forslund promises he’ll strive to deliver Kraken fans the same quality broadcast he became renowned for with his previous NHL team.
That would be the Carolina Hurricanes, where Forslund and his “Hey, hey, waddya say!” catchphrase became a fixture over a quarter century before some bizarre contract negotiations last winter led to an impasse and a soap-opera-like departure.
Forslund doesn’t care to revisit the widely publicized way things ended. He prefers to focus on good times he hopes to recreate as the Kraken’s play-by-play voice. His hiring was part of a multiyear broadcast deal announced Tuesday that will see Mariners-owned ROOT Sports Northwest televise all locally broadcast Kraken home and away games.
“I hope we have the gold standard of local television,” Forslund, 58, said Tuesday after it was announced he had signed a five-year deal with the Kraken. “That’s what I want to do. I’ve got to build trust with the fan base, and that’s going to be my mission. That’s what I want to do.”
Forslund and broadcast partner Tripp Tracy were long considered by fans to be among the NHL’s most popular local broadcast duos. Forslund also had begun broadcasting games nationally for NBC Sports and will continue doing so under his Kraken deal.
The regional sports network (RSN) decision had been one of the bigger remaining businesses pieces for the Kraken ahead of its debut in October. The Mariners purchased a 71% controlling stake in ROOT Sports in April 2013, with AT&T-owned DirecTV maintaining the remaining share and handling the operational logistics.
But obtaining major sports programming to fill its non-baseball months had been a missing piece. Beyond all Kraken games that aren’t picked up nationally, ROOT Sports also will televise at least the team’s inaugural preseason and a potential first-round playoff matchup.
Plans also include pregame and postgame shows, as well as a weekly magazine-formatted Kraken program. The Kraken will not retain any equity stake in the RSN; meaning it will be paid an annual rights fee, which in the NHL typically ranges between $15 million and $30 million annually outside major markets.
If Kraken and Mariners games overlap, an alternate channel would be added to show both.
AT&T Sports Networks president Patrick Crumb hails from Port Angeles, resides in the Seattle area and helped the Vegas Golden Knights launch their television package ahead of their expansion debut in 2017.
There are no plans for an over-the-top streaming service by the team, even though its arena naming rights deal with Amazon and that technology giant’s recent pact with the Sounders had fueled speculation one might be coming. AT&T TV offers a streaming feature in which some packages since last summer include ROOT Sports NW.
Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke said the RSN’s swath of coverage over a five-state territory — including hockey-enthused Alaska — played a role. So did the RSN’s heavy penetration into commercial establishments where hockey fans typically gather to watch games.
“We have tried at every turn to do things right on behalf of our fans,” Leiweke said. “Our fans will now be able to see games over a vast territory, in sports bars other commercial establishments. And they’ll get to hear a guy in John (Forslund), who’s at the top of his class in play-by-play.”
Only after he stopped doing Hurricanes broadcasts last summer did Forslund realize how much he’d miss following a local team.
“If you’re a broadcaster and you do national work, you’re at the highest level and that’s terrific — you’re serving a local audience and a national one, that’s great,” Forslund said. “But with a team there’s a real connection with one singular fan base, and then there’s community work, and there’s that connection with the team.”
Forslund joined the Hurricanes in 1991 when they were the Hartford Whalers. He began doing play-by-play for the Whalers in 1995, joined them in relocating to Carolina in 1997 and had been synonymous with the franchise.
The Hurricanes in 2018 underwent an ownership change that saw Tom Dundon buy the team from Peter Karmanos. Dundon soon fired general manager Ron Francis — who now holds that post with the Kraken — and began a shift within the organization’s business ranks.
Though Dundon has invested in the on-ice product and the Hurricanes have emerged into Stanley Cup favorites, he’s seemingly cut corners elsewhere.
Dundon parted ways with 39-year veteran Hurricanes radio broadcaster Chuck Kaiton in 2018. Last spring, word of the Forslund contract impasse made headlines — especially when it leaked that the Hurricanes wanted him to take a major salary hit with a deal contingent on the number of fans in attendance.
Forslund turned that down in June. At that point his deal was up, and the Hurricanes embarked on the pandemic-delayed playoffs last August without him.
Making things worse, Forslund’s three-decade tenure with the organization had ended in COVID-19-induced home quarantine. Forslund had been with the team in Detroit and stayed at the same hotel as the NBA’s Utah Jazz the night before.
“Was actually in the same room as Rudy Gobert had been,” Forslund said. “I had the dubious distinction of getting his room after they checked out.”
Right after that, Gobert became the first NBA player to contract COVID-19, leading that league to shut down. Forslund quickly was notified and spent 10 days quarantined in his basement with his wife leaving food at the top of the stairs.
Though he never developed COVID-19 symptoms, his Hurricanes days were over. By fall he was in a very different quarantine, calling playoff games for NBC in Toronto and Edmonton “bubble” zones.
Forslund knew Francis from his time as a Hurricanes player and executive, and he threw his name in the ring here. He and Leiweke began talking last summer and eventually found a fit — especially with the Kraken willing to let Forslund continue doing national work.
“They look at that as a positive,” Forslund said.
It’s unclear whether the national work will continue beyond the league’s deal with NBC, which expires after this season. But Forslund made clear the Kraken will be his top priority.
“To work for an organization like this from Day 1 is a privilege,” he said. “I get to be part of their vision and mark all their history like I did for 23 years in Carolina. To get a second chance to do that just doesn’t happen. So, I’m very grateful for it.”