Sunday, August 15, 2010

Women's Hockey Commentary: How To Fan The Flames Of Fandom

There is no way to hide it. The experience of attending a women’s college hockey game is usually lacking in a quality atmosphere. On a constant basis, attendance and outspoken interest in PC’s team, among countless others, is much too shallow to do any justice to the main attraction down at ice level.

Too often, it appears as if the ticket holders are casually socializing and passing through the concourse and the Friends of Friar Room, oblivious to the rink in the middle as if it were the ceiling cavity on the third floor of Providence Place Mall.

What can be done to improve this? Well, where do you want to start? There are several relatively easy methods of enhancing the vigor in the arena on game night and promotional ideas to maintain attention.

I’m not na├»ve by any means. I understand that Schneider Arena does not have all of the resources to replicate the atmosphere of the TD Garden or even the Dunkin Donuts Center. But just the same, even with what it does have to give, the pleasure of attending a Friars game has yet to play to its full potential. More energy and more professionalism are needed behind the scenes.

This author may not have much experience working a sideshow or running a public relations office, but he does have enough experience with, well, experiences (both good and subpar) at sporting events to confidently suggest the following five steps to reeling in more fanfare at PC women’s games:

Shoot out the lights- There’s something about darkening the building and enlisting a couple of spotlights that draws more attention to the ice and instills extra adrenaline leading up to game time. The PC men’s team has already been doing this for two years running, so why not the women’s?

Power up the playlist- To build on that last point, more needs to be done to corral the attention of the fans early, get them to anticipate the game more keenly, and keep them engaged when they have fixated their eyes on the ice. It all starts by playing more heart-pumping, sweat-flowing music. (Urgent note to the DJ: Sugar Ray never hit a real sports fanatic’s sweet spot and it never will.)

Again, compare/contrast the vibe in Schneider Arena for a men’s game versus a women’s contest. The men’s team typically storms out to the likes of “Enter Sandman” or “Always Hardcore.” The Skating Sorority gets stuck with a canned, dead beat version of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Even worse, that darned clunker of a fight song is recycled for every goal and the start and conclusion of every period.

That’s not to say this is the sole reason why attendance at women’s games is so sparse and why it’s so easy for the visiting masses to have their voices heard and usurp home ice advantage. But it is definitely an accomplice at best. In fact, so far as this author can tell, this particular area needs to be addressed more than any other if teams like the PC women are going to pile up on public relations.

The solution: first, the quick fix for goals. Ever heard of Rock and Roll Part II? If not, then look up “Providence Bruins goal horn” on YouTube. Or how about Kernkraft 400? For that, simply query “Boston Bruins goal horn” and it’ll cut you to the chase.

As for the pregame buildup, the list of options is vaster and deeper than Team Canada’s Olympic tryout roster.

You could try any one of these (remember, lights off) for the last 3-4 minutes before the players emerge for the first period: “New Divide” by Linkin Park; “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence; “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” by AC/DC; “The Pretender” by Foo Fighters; “Boom” by P.O.D.; “Burn It To The Ground (radio edit)” by Nickelback”; “State of Massachusetts” by the Dropkick Murphys; or even “Time to Go” by the Dropkick Murphys.

And then, once the starting goaltender sets her first blade on the pond, try the opening portion of one of these: “Crazy Train” by Ozzie Osbourne; “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC; “Animals” by Nickelback; “Right Now” by Van Halen; or “Kickstart My Heart” by Motley Crue (as the P-Bruins have proven, once that song reaches “Kickstart my heart, hope it never stops,” you can sense that everyone is ready to go).

Book some good guests- Nothing like two local sports teams crossing their personnel over to show that they are in it together catering to the same fan base. The PC women can easily benefit by –at least on occasion- bringing in other Rhode Island sports figures to drop a ceremonial first puck and/or sign autographs in the lobby at intermission.

Whether it’s a hype-magnet of a new PC men’s basketball recruit, a locally bred PawSox player within tasting distance of the major leagues, or an-ex PC icer now with the P-Bruins (by now you’ve heard Nolan Schaefer is coming back to the Divine City), the possibilities abound. They should be utilized.

Host a team Superskills competition- It doesn’t get a whole lot of publicity at the pro level, and it’s not even clear if any teams still do it. But in the past, NHL teams have been known to assemble a crowd at their home arena, split their team into two squads, and let them flaunt their flair with proceeds going to charity. When the Bruins did this, such events included hardest shot, fastest skater, puck control relay, shooting accuracy, and breakaway relay.

It couldn’t hurt a publicity-starved team to try such an exhibition. The best time for the Friars to do this would probably be a Friday evening when the PC men are slated to play a game at 7:00 while the women are tuning up for a Saturday/Sunday weekend slate. Perhaps, in lieu of the usual 4-6 practice window, Bob Deraney’s pupils could test and flaunt their skills for those waiting to watch the Tim Army Corps. Fans could be let into the building an hour earlier than the usual 6:00 doorbust and be enlightened to the sport’s diversity.

Start a YouTube channel- It came to this author’s attention earlier this past season that the Friars already have a Facebook and Twitter page, so why stop there? Within the WHEA alone, four programs –Boston University, New Hampshire, Northeastern, and Vermont- regularly post game highlights and quick features on YouTube. And once you’re there, you literally have a planet’s worth of prospective viewers.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press