When it is time for a professional sports team to come up with a name, it tends to make the most boring choice possible, selecting something that a well-paid marketing team determined would upset the fewest people through a series of test groups. The last time the NFL launched a new franchise, in 2002, it was with a team in Texas. That team was named the Texans. The last new MLB team name was introduced in 2005; the franchise that moved from Montreal to Washington, D.C., was named the Nationals. MLS has unveiled 11 new team names since 2015: New York City FC, Orlando City SC, Atlanta United FC, Minnesota United FC, Los Angeles FC, FC Cincinnati, Inter Miami CF, Nashville SC, Austin FC, Charlotte FC, and Sacramento Republic FC. On Thursday morning, Washington’s NFL team announced that it had come up with an interim name for the 2020 season. For now, Washington’s football team will officially be called the Washington Football Team. (Maybe Washington FT can win the MLS Cup!)
Seattle’s new NHL team also announced its long-awaited team name on Thursday, and decided not to go with the boring route. It picked a name no other pro sports team has ever used, or for that matter likely ever considered. This team is the Seattle Kraken, hockey’s new terror of the deep.
A kraken, for those who don’t spend their time listening to tall tales of wizened 1800s sailors, is a mythical, many-tentacled monster that lives underwater, a sort of giant squid capable of dragging even the largest old-timey wooden ships to their doom. The Norse feared them, and the Norse didn’t fear much. I guess we mostly stopped worrying about kraken when we invented planes, but the creature has had a 21st-century resurgence thanks to appearances in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and the 2010 birth of the absolute worst rum in world history. (When an alcohol’s marketing strategy is “drinking this is like fighting an unknowable sea beast against whom there is no hope of survival,” you should listen.)
Now, the Kraken is a hockey team. (You have to assume the Seattle Kraken is responsible for the death of the Hartford Whalers, those hapless bygone sailors long lost to the sea. We commend their souls to the deepest of the deep.)
Seattle reportedly considered more conventional team names. The Metropolitans was a serious contender, although the NHL nixed it because it didn’t want to rename its Metropolitan Division. And according to ESPN, the team noticed that people got excited whenever anybody suggested the Kraken online. (Perhaps also pushing things over the line: Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, is part owner of the team.) Weird, isn’t it, how people were more excited by a one-of-a-kind name inspired by a mysterious deadly monster than a name that is already taken by a baseball team synonymous with Tommy John surgery and sadness.
That said, naming a team after a mascot that excites people online is generally a bad idea. Sure, minor league baseball teams can be named the IronPigs, Chihuahuas, or Flying Squirrels, but a franchise at the top level of its sport can’t be a Meme Team. Its name has to be something that can be legitimately built around, and to that I say: Look at these damn logos.
This is an anchor that’s also the Space Needle. Another Kraken logo is the tentacle of the unseen beast emerging from the water, and it’s equally beautiful. Just look at these damn sweaters:
It’s unclear whether the team will come out with a fuzzy Kraken mascot or whether it will stick with Cthulhuesque imagery for the rest of time. My hope is that the franchise introduces a fuzzy Cthulhu mascot, if only so it can absolutely terrify some small children at birthday parties.
I’m not from Seattle, but I’m heartened by the release of the Kraken. With the Washington Football Team finally getting rid of its racist name and imagery, I’ve been thinking a lot about why exactly these things exist. We don’t really need them; as European soccer leagues prove, it’s entirely possible to root for a sports team without them. So what do we want out of them?
I guess the point is that a name should tap into a team and a city’s identity. It should make fans feel like they’re part of something unique, and that they should be proud to be a part of it. The Kraken proves that a team name can be distinctive without being gimmicky. I embrace the slimy tentacle of the Kraken as it drags the rest of the NHL to the icy depths.