CHL: Drums and Scarves

27 01 2010

Friend of the blog Petrel asks:

Wouldn’t it be great if people could bring drums to a WNBA game? Or wear those cool scarves emblazoned with the team name?

To which I responded in part:

I wonder if people *could* bring drums to the game, but as with any of those shenanigans it involves talking with the front office and doing it as a partnership rather than “just” trying to tote some drums in.


The Allen Americans CHL hockey team is experiencing that culture shift, by the way, and that’s a story for another time… but it reinforces that drums and chants happened because the FO was part of the process.

It’s time to tell the story.

My hearing died to bring you this photo.

Pictured above is the (in)famous “drum” that people have come to… expect at Allen Americans hockey games. Not everyone cares for it, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it has majority support. Hockey isn’t generally known to have a soccer-style atmosphere with drums and chanting, but unlike basketball there are long runs of play that don’t receive “air support” from the PA system. So where the Atlanta Hawks or Dream need/want to play 24-second sound clips every trip up and down the court, hockey tends to get bursts of PA intervention during stops in play. “Time for a Dallas Staaaaaars Power Play!” is one such canned yet effective example.

Allen Americans fans (based on my first-hand observations) loooove to chant “let’s go Al-len” punctuated with the drum. The kids enjoy it and pretty much demand that it be on an infinite loop. But other “isms” have taken hold, such as taunting the opposing goalie with “hey, [goalie], it’s ALL YOUR FAULT!” after giving up a leading goal to Allen. Phantom cries of “youuuuu Reds” are emanating from sections other than 120 where the drum resides. This wasn’t planned by the Allen Americans or the CHL, but to some extent the organization supports the drumming and chants. When the “Ice Angels” clapped along to “we love Har-lan” (the drummer) one night I knew saturation had been achieved.

Now: To be fair, this is the inaugural season for a minor league hockey team in suburban Dallas in a brand new arena. There will be growing pains, and there was some drama concerning the drum that I will not recount here (mostly because it had a happy ending so who cares) but the essential point is, it’s part of the atmosphere now. I suppose if someone had decided to come to the games dressed up as the “Texas Jive Turkey” and waved pantomime “yo momma” wing-waves at the opposing team from the stands, then over time people would ask “where’s the jive turkey?” if that person missed a game or was ordered not to show up in costume anymore.

The key in either case was to explain to the team front office what the intentions were and how best to provide this atmosphere without getting into struggles over fan enthusiasm versus the “official” atmosphere provided by the organization.

As for how this would play out at a basketball game, using the Atlanta Dream as my case study from afar, I’d say if Petrel and company showed up with a drum and Atlanta Dream scarves and wanted to designate a specific section as “Dreamland” where the passionate fans stand and chant for 48 minutes, in a vacuum the organization would balk and probably deny them entry. Sans drum, if everyone stood and chanted, they’d probably get the PA voice of God booming “please be seated during play and [reiteration of arena policy].”

This does not mean that there’s no hope for fan-supplied atmosphere outside of the hated “ev’ry-bod-y clap your hands” canned clip or “thundersticks” called out at random intervals. Talking with the front office NOW during the off season is ideal to hash out what they’re willing to accept versus declaring that they’ll provide the entertainment, thanks, now siddown and please buy season tickets.

From what I have seen, FIBA (men’s European) basketball games have no canned PA clips and people do indeed do the drums ‘n scarves thing like in soccer. I would imagine that the WNBA version of this, using my above example would be fans standing and chanting “Atlanta Dre-eam, Atlanta Dre-eam, olé olé olé (boom boom)” until switching to some other song/chant/taunt.

As for taunting, I don’t see that getting a warm reception in the WNBA. US women’s athletics is not particularly geared to mean-spirited fan taunts and if anything that can bestow sympathy for the recipient(s) as opposed to riling up the crowd like in say, NFL games. For Petrel’s purposes when he goes to his first WPS game later this year (grin), it’s much more kosher to chant “let’s go Beat” rather than “kill the bitch!” while [player] tries to steal the ball away from [opposing player]. If say, Candace Parker misses the game-winning score at the buzzer and Atlanta wins, I don’t think it would be culturally acceptable vis-a-vis women’s athletics to celebrate the occasion with chants of “hey, Candace, it’s ALL YOUR FAULT!”

So: Anyone wanting to bring soccer-style atmosphere to venues/sports where that is not common practice would be well served to do the following:

  • Establish consensus as to what it is you wish to do. Drums? How many? Where? Will they deafen people in the immediate vicinity that didn’t want to be party to them? Chants? What? Clean, family friendly chants? If so, what? How will people know when to join in?
  • Establish a “supporter’s section”. In theory, the entire arena is unified in home team support, but it’s not unheard of for other sports to have designated hardcore fan sections like the Black Hole, Dog Pound, Section 8, The Inferno, or Havoc. In WNBA terms this will probably be confined to the nosebleed seats and might be hard to direct traffic from, however the PA-heavy Atlanta Dream could work in conjunction with that section and say something like “come on fans, Dreamland can’t hear you. Let’s go Dream!”
  • Work with the front office and keep an open two-way dialog as to what tweaks are necessary to help Atlanta meet its obligations (the league itself may mandate various announcements or canned “atmosphere”) while encouraging fan enthusiasm. Hey, if fans get excited because there’s a drum (or drums) this year and the chanting is fun and gets the team fired up, then doesn’t that get them talking up the experience to others and perhaps – gasp – sell more tickets?
  • Keep experimenting and be open to suggestions.
  • Stay positive. I can tell you first-hand that opposing teams and fans absolutely hate it when they think they have scored the killer dagger of a goal only to be met with loud chants of “[yay team]” from the would-be losing side.

As a timely aside, I am noticing that even a conservative sport like tennis has the potential for soccer-style fan interaction. Not much of it, obviously, but between serves the fans at the 2010 Australian Open have been chanting and clapping rhythmically in short bursts to encourage their favorite players BUT within the confines of acceptable noisemaking, which is never during the run of play.

If you’re in the Dallas metro area and want to see, hear, and experience exciting CHL hockey with bonus soccer-style atmosphere on weekends, why not come to the Allen Event Center? Let’s go Al-len! (Boom boom boom)




One response

28 01 2010

Just an historical note. Back in the 1970’s, when Immaculata was a Women’s College Basketball power, the Mighty Macs were known for having nuns beating on drums in the stands.

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