SEATTLE – A presentation was taking place inside a conference room at the Seattle Kraken practice facility when one of the doors began to slowly open.
Panic began to take shape at that moment.
This forced a 6 foot tall furry blue troll with an anchor hoop earring dangling from his left side and a blue tentacle dangling from his right ear to find a hiding spot. He caused everyone inside the room to burst out laughing, right after the person who tried to enter the room was told that it was not a good time.
Now you know how far the Kraken are willing to go to keep a secret.
At that time, fewer than 50 people on the planet had seen Buoy. That changed on Saturday when Kraken introduced his mascot to the rest of the world by rappelling him from the rafters of Climate Pledge Arena before a preseason game against the Vancouver Canucks.
It was no secret that the Kraken was going to have a pet. Everything else, however, was a mystery. Nobody knew what name they would choose or what the mascot would look like, until now.
Hundreds of ideas and names were submitted in Kraken’s search for a mascot. Out of all this came Buoy. His backstory is that he is the nephew of the Fremont Troll, the iconic Seattle sculpture that inspired the creation of him. The name was chosen because the Kraken kept coming back to what it sounded like for a pet.
“We looked at all the characters in this area and wanted to make sure that what we were bringing was unique. We didn’t want to be like anyone else,” said Kraken’s vice president of entertainment experience and production, Lamont Buford. “When you look at a lot of mascots in esports, you can tell which mascots were spawned by looking at another mascot. We wanted to make sure we avoid that.”
Creating a mascot presents obstacles, especially in the post-Gritty era where the already high expectations are even higher for what is often a subjective task. The Kraken’s goal was to find a pet that felt local. But that request also came with limitations. They didn’t want to have an octopus as a mascot because that already belongs to the Detroit Red Wings.
They also didn’t 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 but still have a pet that could set the right tone.
“We talk about the kraken as if it lives in the theater of the mind. It’s a mysterious beast. We don’t want to be a cartoon brand, so we haven’t revealed the full kraken,” said Kraken’s senior vice president of marketing and communications. Katie Townsend said. “It was a pretty obvious choice that we wouldn’t go with a kraken, but would do a deep dive led by Lamont and the 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 tone of the team’s color scheme. His hair is a nod to hockey hair, as he pays homage to the long hair associated with Squatch, the longtime mascot of the Seattle SuperSonics. The tentacle dangling from his ear is a way for fans to know that Buoy “had an encounter with a kraken,” while his earring is the same anchor worn as the team’s shoulder patch.
To Buford’s knowledge, the only team that has a troll as a mascot is Trinity Christian College, an NAIA school in Illinois.
Going for something unique meant that Kraken wanted to test Buoy with different focus groups to make sure his look was suitable for both families and adults. That way, the team could send an engaging presence out into the community for events like birthday parties or festivals.
One of the ways to do this 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 “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 of the Y continues under its name in a wave pattern.
The process began in 2020, when the organization asked if they needed a pet. Buford and Townsend said that Kraken kept hearing from fans who wanted one. So they took up the challenge, talked to different stakeholders within the organization and started brainstorming.
Ultimately, the team narrowed it down to nine ideas, with Buoy being the eventual winner.
“Some of them are things that you might have imagined 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 one day, and that’s the Sonics mascot.”
Of course, while all of this was being discussed, Buford and Townsend were also keeping an eye on the door to make sure no one else knew about the pet. Secrecy has become an important part of the Kraken operation. It was that way when it came to their logo and uniform design, and no one knew for sure that they were hiring coach Dave Hakstol until they released a statement saying they had hired the former Philadelphia Flyers coach to be the first in the history of the equipment.
Buford’s team designed Buoy, so they were in constant contact. Townsend’s team didn’t see him until May. Kraken’s executive ownership team saw Buoy in September, while Kraken players met the mascot a week before launch.
There were several questions that Kraken had to answer before Buoy’s presentation. Perhaps one of the most important was how he would be received by the fans and the hockey world in general.
Pets can often be a polarizing subject. Some people love them. Others might do without them for various reasons. Everything from the name to how it looks, 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 might arise?
“I think with a pet, I almost expect it to be 50-50,” Townsend said. “It’s very divisive. People feel very passionate about it. Not everyone is a mascot, and that’s okay too. I think what we do is our due diligence with our focus groups… and we feel like we’ve created a mascot that she is funny”. and it fits our brand, then we’re going to go ahead with the launch.”