SEATTLE — A presentation was taking place inside a conference room at the Seattle Kraken‘s practice facility when one of the doors began to slowly open.
Panic began taking shape at that moment.
This forced a 6-foot-tall, furry, blue troll with an anchor hoop earring dangling on his left side and a blue tentacle hanging from his right ear to find a hiding spot. It made everyone else inside the room burst into laughter, right after the person who tried going into the room was told it was not a good time.
Now you know the lengths the Kraken are willing to go to keep a secret.
At that time, less than 50 people on the planet had even seen Buoy. That changed Saturday when the Kraken introduced their mascot to the rest of the world by having him rappel from the Climate Pledge Arena rafters before a preseason game against the Vancouver Canucks.
It was no secret the Kraken were going to have a mascot. Everything else, however, was a mystery. Nobody knew what name they would choose or what the mascot would even look like, until now.
Hundreds of ideas and names were submitted in the Kraken’s quest for a mascot. From it all came Buoy. His backstory is that he is the nephew of the Fremont Troll, the iconic Seattle sculpture that inspired his creation. The name was chosen because the Kraken kept coming back to how it sounded for a mascot.
“We looked at all the characters in this area and we wanted to make sure that what we brought was going to be unique. We didn’t want to be like anybody else,” Kraken vice president of entertainment experience and production Lamont Buford said. “When you look at a lot of mascots in sports, you can tell which mascots that were generated from looking at another mascot. We wanted to make sure we avoided that.”
Creating a mascot comes with obstacles — especially in the post-Gritty era in which already-high expectations are even higher for what is often a subjective task. The goal for the Kraken was to find a mascot that felt local. But that request also came with limitations. They did not want to have an octopus for a mascot because that already belongs to the Detroit Red Wings.
They also did not want to use a kraken. The argument is that nobody knows what a kraken looks like. And because of that, they wanted to keep that mystery going but still have a mascot that could strike the right tone.
“We talk about the kraken as living in the theater of the mind. It’s a mysterious beast. We don’t want to be a cartoon brand which is why we have not revealed the full kraken,” Kraken senior vice president of marketing and communications Katie Townsend said. “It was a fairly obvious choice that we would not go with a kraken, but would do a deep dive led by Lamont and team to examine what is the right mascot for the city, for the fans and for the brand.”
Buford said Buoy’s blue fur matches the shade of the team’s color scheme. His hair is a nod to hockey hair, while also paying homage to the long hair famously associated with Squatch, the longtime mascot of the Seattle SuperSonics. The tentacle dangling from the ear is a way to let fans know Buoy “had an encounter with a kraken,” while his earring is the same anchor used as the team’s shoulder patch.
To Buford’s knowledge, the only team that has a troll for a mascot is Trinity Christian College, an NAIA school in Illinois.
Going with something that was unique meant the Kraken wanted to test Buoy with different focus groups to make sure his look was both family- and adult-friendly. That way, the team could send an inviting presence out into the community for events like birthday parties or festivals.
One of the ways to do that was to make Buoy have a squeaky nose. He also has a removable tooth so he can look like a hockey player, and a dance called the “Buoy Boogie” that he will do at various times.
It even extends to how Buoy signs his name. The B is designed to look like a buoy with flashing lights, while the tail from the Y continues to go underneath his name in a wavelike pattern.
The process began in 2020, with the organization asking if they needed a mascot. Buford and Townsend said the Kraken kept hearing from fans that they wanted one. So they took on the challenge, spoke with different stakeholders within the organization and began brainstorming.
Eventually, the team narrowed it to nine ideas, with Buoy being the eventual winner.
“Some of them are things you could have imagined what they would have been,” Townsend said. “There were some that were abstract like a Squatch. We looked at marine life. We looked at things associated with a kraken. It would never be Squatch. We hope the Sonics will come back someday, and that is the Sonics’ mascot.”
Of course, as all this was being discussed, Buford and Townsend also kept an eye on the door to make sure nobody else knew about the mascot. Secrecy has become a significant part of the Kraken’s operation. It was like that when it came to their logo and uniform design, and nobody knew for certain they were hiring coach Dave Hakstol until they issued a release saying they had hired the former Philadelphia Flyers coach to be the first in team history.
Buford’s team designed Buoy, so they were in constant contact. Townsend’s team did not see it until May. The Kraken’s executive ownership team saw Buoy in September, while the Kraken’s players met the mascot about a week before the release.
There were several questions the Kraken had to answer prior to Buoy’s introduction. Perhaps one of the most important was how he would be received by fans and the hockey world at large?
Mascots can often be a polarizing topic. Some people love them. Others could go without them for a number of reasons. Everything from the name to how they look, along with other nuances, can become social media fodder for at least a few days.
How does a team that spends years working on a mascot prepare for the potential criticism that could come its way?
“I think with a mascot, I almost expect it to be 50-50,” Townsend said. “It’s very divisive. People feel very passionate. Not everyone is a mascot person, and that’s also fine. I think what we do is our due diligence with our focus groups … and we feel we’ve created a mascot that is fun and fits our brand, then we’re going to go forward with the launch.”