Which came first???March 29, 2006
I’ve got a lengthy post coming on my experience this past weekend in Detroit, but I have to interject with something a bit shorter in the meantime.
I’ve had the fortune to attend the last two Blue Jacket games. Saturday night in Hockeytown and last night here in Columbus. It gave me the opportunity to freshly examine the differences between the crowds and atmosphere in different arenas.
A few years back, ESPN The Magazine ranked all professional sports franchises in varying categories to determine which was the most successful franchise overall. Fan experience was one of the criteria, and one in which the Columbus Blue Jackets placed first overall. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this means that the Nationwide Arena staff does a great job of providing a fantastic experience for the fans. It also doesn’t take a lot of marketing genius to twist this to say that the Columbus fans are the best in sports, which is what a lot of Blue Jackets followers believe. After a visit to Detroit this past weekend, I can assure you that we have a long way to go to scale that summit.
It should go without saying that fans are louder when the team is doing well and quieter when the team is struggling. It is very difficult to cheer loudly for a team that is not performing. The Jackets don’t exactly have a history of burning through the league, so we’re already one step behind due to human nature. The Nationwide Arena game operations staff is very knowledgeable and does a nice job of using the PA system and the video screens to encourage the otherwise loyal fans to get loud at all the right times. More often than not, there is a smattering of applause and a few “Let’s go Jackets” yells in response. For some reason, the Nationwide crowd doesn’t respond well to the decibel meter. That is probably because it seems to be broken and always shows the crowd getting louder when it’s obvious this isn’t true. The fans do show their appreciation in spurts when the team is playing well. Last night, with the game pretty much in hand (Jackets up 3-1 with 2:00 remaining) the cheers began and it seemed that the arena was waking up. I would challenge the attendees to realize that great hockey teams need great fans. If we want the boys to play all out, we have to give them our all as well for the entire game. I have never seen a home crowd even come close to doing this at any sporting event, save the Ohio State – Michigan football game two years ago. That is, until I stepped into Joe Louis Arena last Saturday night.
The arena staff in Detroit use the same kind of cheer inducing systems that are used in Columbus. But most of the time it seemed that they really didn’t have to use them. Every time a Red Wing had the puck in the slot (for you casual hockey fans, this is the area that is in front of the goal extending back to the blue line, from where many the goals in the NHL are scored) the crowd would audibly “ooh” and “ahh”. If a Red Wing received a breakaway pass and skated in on the opposing goalie, the crowd would stand in anticipation. When the decibel meter showed up on the center ice video board, the crowd would get loud. Every time. When the team was up 3-0, the fans were loud. When the team was down 4-3 and the Red Wings had scoring chances, the fans were louder. It has to be hard not to get excited by this if you are a player.
I’m aware that this team has been in the playoffs for something like 15 years in a row, and this has nurtured a champions atmosphere in Detroit. Three Stanley Cups in less than ten years will do that. My question paraphrases the timeless conundrum: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” If a good hockey team is the chicken and good fans are the egg, I have a sneaking suspicion that the chicken comes first. But can it be too much to ask for the egg to try a little harder to hatch a healthy chicken? I, for one, am willing to try.
See you in the chicken coop.