Sports Radio KJR on Wednesday was named the flagship station for Kraken games as part of a multiyear partnership expected to benefit the team and its Climate Pledge Arena partners on multiple fronts.
The deal between the Kraken and KJR parent company iHeart Media Seattle will see Everett Fitzhugh become the first Black play-by-play broadcaster for an NHL team as part of the KJR broadcast — which will primarily take place on its 950 KJR AM channel with select games occurring on iHeart-owned 96.5 JACK-FM. Fans worldwide will be able to stream games on iHeartRadio.com and its mobile application.
“They’ve been big supporters of ours since this team was announced,” Fitzhugh said of the station on Wednesday, adding he expects to hear more shortly about how the broadcast crew will be rounded out. “They’ve been right there with us every step of the way.”
KJR has been touting the Kraken on its airwaves the past several years, starting in 2018 with weekly segments done by host Dave (Softy) Mahler with CEO Tod Leiweke and former NHL Seattle senior adviser Dave Tippett. The longtime former home of the NBA SuperSonics had gone years without a major professional sports property — though it broadcasts the UW Huskies and secured the Sounders rights three years ago — while rival 710 ESPN Seattle has the Seahawks and the Mariners.
But the deal also helps the Kraken leverage KJR parent company iHeart Media’s extensive network reach across the team’s three-state marketing territory in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. That network also includes a plethora of music stations, which will serve the team and Climate Pledge Arena management well when it comes to promoting concerts at the venue.
“This deal really made sense on a lot of levels,” Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke said. “And the fact they’ve been there for us from the beginning, putting us on the air and talking us up when they really didn’t have to yet, that meant something in the end.”
In addition to Kraken games, KJR plans regular live broadcasts from Climate Pledge Arena and the team’s future practice facility at the Northgate Mall site. Among the station’s on-air personalities, host Ian Furness has an extensive background broadcasting junior hockey games stretching back more than 20 years.
“We are extremely excited to bring Seattle’s newest professional franchise to the airwaves,” Rich Moore, Senior Vice President of Programming for iHeartMedia Seattle, said in a release. “It will be beyond fun helping build up this great fan base from the start, offering additional content and unique access on multiple platforms.”
Music will be a key component of those platforms.
The arena is being rebuilt for a price tag expected to surpass $1 billion by the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group — a partnership between Leiweke’s brother, Tim, and music mogul Irving Azoff. While the city still owns the venue, OVG and the Kraken’s ownership team retain a stake in its management and revenues derived from it.
Concerts are expected to be a huge revenue generator on nongame days to help pay back the arena renovation costs and get the city closer to maximizing its profit-sharing arrangement with the private management groups.
“Their music stations, they’ve got tens of thousands of listeners,” Tod Leiweke said. “So, when concert promoters are selling tickets, that’s one-stop shopping.”
On the hockey front, Leiweke hopes the coverage offered by iHeart Media will enable Kraken broadcasts to be heard “from Seattle-to-Portland-to-Spokane-to-Anchorage-to-Fairbanks. They can cover just about every bit of our territory and that’s really what you want as a new team.”
KJR has long coveted a return of the NBA Supersonics — which appeared on its airwaves from 1987-2006.
Signing the current deal appears to position the station well when it comes to the NBA, given some within the Kraken’s ownership are expected to have at least a minority position in any future Sonics team.
Leiweke said the NBA component wasn’t part of the NHL negotiations.