08/18/2011 02:46 EDT | Updated 10/18/2011 05:12 EDT

Sports Anthems: For the Love of the Game


I started watching junior and NHL hockey in the 1970s and it was a fun experience to go to a game through the 1980s. One of the staples of the Canadian hockey arena was an organist. They all had the same songs and encouraged the fans to interact by yelling "charge" or clapping. No matter what rink you walked into you could count on these songs. It was what one might call "cheesy" in today's terms but it was something you could count on and was comfortable. It made the game accessible. It gave the fans a reason to interact and become part of the game.

The one traditional item that remains in today's in game experience is the nation anthem(s) of the country of the teams involved. If it is Calgary Flames vs. Phoenix Coyotes, you get "O Canada" and "The Star Spangled Banner" before the game. Each and every game. Since the early to mid-'90s, junior and professional hockey has gone away from the organist in favor of loud music between plays. This is what professional sports marketers often refer to as enhancing the in game experience and offering fans a full entertainment package. In my view, the music drowns out any attempt the fans make to cheer, chant and rant during the game. The jumbotron or scoreboard often prompts the fans to clap, or yell louder.

Now lets look at the English Premiership in football (soccer). Each team has a theme song of their own which is played before their home games. For my beloved Liverpool it is "You'll Never Walk Alone." it is the ONLY song played prior to the game. The opposition gets NO love. Their travelling fans sit in one section together and sing their teams songs while the home fans try and drown them out with their songs. The fans also make up songs for each player on the team. Songs like "500 Miles" "Yellow Submarine" and "Que Sera" are re written with players names, numbers and characteristics. Here is a song about my favorite player Luis Suarez. I show up, sometimes as early as 5 a.m. to a local watering hole in Calgary to watch the games with a group of Liverpool supporters and we sing these very songs and enjoy the atmosphere that is at the actual game. The fans take ownership of the atmosphere, not the club. There is no jumbotron or scoreboard telling the fans to cheer or encouraging them to be louder. It is organic and real and owned by the supporters, not the club.

The history of hockey is filled with great chants that came organically from the fans and this has been lost in today's in game experience. The supporters in England would not let this happen and still have control over the atmosphere in the stadium and in the pubs. The NHL and the game of hockey needs to look at better ways of connecting with it's fans and the Premiership is just an example of how it can work when fans take ownership.