There was no major Kraken news this week, other than assistant general manager Jason Botterill won’t be applying for former boss Jim Rutherford’s GM job in Pittsburgh.
You’ll remember that Kraken senior adviser Dave Tippett left nearly two years ago to become the Edmonton Oilers’ coach. But with the Kraken’s launch date fast approaching, I’m told that incoming hockey operations personnel have known for a while that they would be expected to honor their commitments here.
So Botterill is sticking around. As is the team’s hockey strategy and research director, Alexandra Mandrycky, after it was rumored the Penguins might seek out her services.
Other than that, the biggest Kraken news lately was their new TV deal with ROOT Sports Northwest. You had some questions on that and other things for this week’s Kraken mailbag, and as always I’ll try to answer.
Q: @GreggersPotter asked: The deal that the Kraken have with ROOT says that they will air 75 games; what about the remaining 7 games in the 82-game season?
A: A careful read of what they said was about 75 games a season would be shown on ROOT Sports. That leaves about seven games for the national TV rights holder, which is NBC. But that national deal is up after this season, and we don’t know what’s coming. NBC can show as many as 12 games a season featuring any team and 23 such games over a two-year period.
Clearly, ROOT Sports wouldn’t be thrilled with having 12 games plucked away if it has already promised advertisers, cable providers and paying customers that all but seven Kraken games will be on its feed. So you can bet ROOT negotiated some penalty clauses in case it falls below that 75-game (or whatever number was agreed to as a minimum) threshold.
I don’t know the magic number of games ROOT was given. But let’s assume it’s 75 and that the Kraken will owe its regional sports network (RSN) partner some money if, say, ROOT gets to show only 72 games next season because the national network picks up 10.
Q: @cmarkus21 asked: The recently announced TV deal with Root — is Root planning on becoming more widely available? Right now they are only available via Comcast and many people now stream television via Hulu, YouTube TV and various other sources.
A: Ah, now we get to the “ROOT” (sorry) of what’s bugging fans who are displeased about the deal. In essence, “cord-cutters” and “cord-nevers” — those who have never paid for cable TV — have smacked into a supply-versus-demand wall.
Live sports, especially regional broadcasts of local teams, remain heavily in-demand and in limited supply. You can’t watch most Mariners or Kraken games anyplace but ROOT Sports. Thus, expecting to get an in-demand RSN included within a bargain basement $35 monthly streaming package while cable viewers pay $125 probably is not realistic.
As you mentioned, many sports viewers once relied on Hulu and YouTube TV, which worked until last summer.
But that screeched to a halt after a fee dispute between the major streaming services and Sinclair Broadcast Group-owned Fox regional sports networks. The streamers wouldn’t pay Sinclair’s asking price and stopped carrying the RSN channels. Sinclair simply shrugged and did a landmark deal with the Bally’s gaming giant last November that will see sports betting technology incorporated within those RSN broadcasts. And, Sinclair now plans a “direct-to-consumer” offering of those regional networks for an as-of-yet undisclosed cost this year.
In the meantime, the only live streaming service offering those Sinclair-owned RSN stations is AT&T TV, which costs about $85 a month. Which brings us to ROOT Sports Northwest, which is also available for streaming only on AT&T TV.
Unlike the Sinclair properties, ROOT Sports was never shown on YouTube TV, Hulu or other streaming services. But not because ROOT didn’t want that. As with Sinclair, the streaming services wouldn’t pay ROOT’s asking price.
The Mariners bought 71% of ROOT Sports NW in 2013, with DirecTV keeping the other 29%. They’ve sunk considerable money into the RSN and aren’t about to give programming away. And apparently nobody else will either, because the cheaper streaming services no longer carry RSN programming.
That’s the demand lesson here. Unless a majority of fans stop watching their teams, they have to pay the going rate. Last I looked, Fubo TV, one streaming service still carrying a handful of RSN properties, was charging $75 a month — fairly close to the AT&T TV rate.
With ROOT Sports carrying the Kraken and Mariners, programming costs will increase. Arguably, the product also will be more in-demand, not less, with the Kraken add-on.
So ROOT isn’t about to undercut its cable TV business by offering deep discounts to bargain streaming platforms. As you mentioned, ROOT is carried by DirecTV cable competitor Comcast because it felt the content was in-demand enough for the asking price to be met.
And that’s what it will take for another streaming service. The Kraken and ROOT would welcome one — at a price. If enough fans gripe to their streaming services, one could bite. But yeah, you’d inevitably pay a higher monthly fee. The days of streaming a popular RSN for $35 a month appear over.
Q: @DrewMiller61 asked: What type of team do you think the Kraken will build? Offense oriented or defensive? Speed vs. size, and go with the youth or veterans?
A: By nature it will be veteran-leaning early, given so many players will arrive through free agency, trades and the expansion draft as opposed to the entry draft. Also, with the salary cap frozen, teams will be offloading veteran money, and the Kraken is well-positioned to take it on.
I’ve mentioned a well-paid winger such as Phil Kessel with the revenue-challenged Arizona Coyotes seems a Kraken fit. It behooves the Kraken to put an entertaining product out right away, and that usually involves pucks going in nets. Also, there’s more of a leaguewide premium on good defensemen as opposed to forwards, so I think the Kraken will have an easier time landing goal scorers than preventers.
Still, that could change in coming seasons. There are projected top-five defenders such as Owen Power, Simon Edvinsson and Luke Hughes available in the entry draft, and the Kraken will be picking somewhere top six.
Q: @danielhklein asked: Has there been any updates on the damage to the Northgate practice facility caused by the construction accident, and will it impact the opening timeline?
A: For those unaware, a construction crew was demolishing the Nordstrom building adjacent the future NHL practice facility last month when debris inadvertently fell on the partially completed $80 million hockey complex.
An update as of Friday: Repair work has begun and won’t impact the timeline for fully opening the facility. That means repairs to the venue’s west side, where the restaurant and bar are located, should be finished before September training camp. The post-mishap photos don’t look great. But I’m told actual damage was less than expected.
Q: @rjarnoldsafe asked: One change in the recent CBA was to allow NHL players to participate in the Olympics. Can you provide some background on why that’s been such an issue and what it means for next season?
A: It’s more a league and owner issue. Just like in soccer, hockey players are conditioned at a young age to take these tournaments and representing their country seriously.
Still, the NHL halting play for three weeks at midseason is a unique sacrifice for the top four U.S. men’s sports leagues. The NBA participates in the Summer Olympics before its season. Same with MLB’s World Baseball Classic. The NFL has no international competitions but plays games overseas without disrupting its in-season schedule.
So the Winter Olympics is a logistical headache for the NHL. There’s also risk of injury to players. The IOC previously balked at paying for insurance and transportation costs for players and families, and at allowing the league to use Olympic footage for marketing. All these extra costs take on added import with the COVID-19 pandemic and need to be resolved.
Meanwhile, Kraken GM Ron Francis has been named an assistant GM for Team Canada’s Olympic entry. He’s tasked with leaguewide scouting, given he’s already monitoring all 31 teams ahead of July’s expansion draft.