3MI LIVE: Sabres vs. Lightning: Game Presentation Edition
It’s been almost two months since the first time I did this, instead of doing a typical blogger live blog, which has been done extensively before, I’m gonna focus on something a bit less obvious: game presentation.
More than ever, it’s become a lightning rod of conversation, thanks to media (local and out-of-town) being extremely critical of the crowd and the energy at the arena. The organization has clearly taken it to heart. They’ve made an obvious point to acknowledge that things aren’t right, and that’s the first step.
They have been listening. They’ve made some changes, many positive. Considering my strong feelings towards what needs to get done, it’d be pointless to demand change and then not point the good things out and react. However, there’s still things that need work.
There’s a new introduction video featuring Rick Jeanneret. They’ve got a new goal song, “Lonely Boy” by the Black Keys. They’ve been dimming the lights here and there. These are improvements, but things aren’t perfect. Things will never be perfect, which can’t be looked at as a negative thing to say, but trying to be better is the important thing.
So for tonight’s game, this will be an attempt to analyze, provide criticism (constructive when possible) and look at what’s been changed and what needs to change.
- It’s about quarter to 6:00 (game time is 7:00) and while the seating bowl is not open yet, the 200 level and suites are getting a trickle of spectators. Zamboni is out on the ice, arena lights are fully on, and soft rock is playing quietly. Looking at the scoreboard, the new “We Live Hockey” graphic is everywhere. I see the emphasis on that marketing initiative since the team returned from the roadtrip. Funny how that’s the catch phrase now and people are arguing on twitter about why you’re allowed to leave games early. Anyways, nothing flashy really going on. I know in the past they used to show old games against the night’s opponent on the scoreboard at this point of the night. I think that’d be a better direction. And please dim the lights. It’s not showtime yet!
- Well, here we go. 5:59 and the arena goes dark and the music goes up. “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent is playing. A little subtle, but could be worse. It’s not Christopher Cross at least. One of the improvements I was key on, and they’re doing it.
- 6:01, and fans are just entering the bowl. This is their first taste of the environment. This is where the tone gets set. Much better now than it was in the past.
- They’re playing some featurettes, including an NHL Rewind done by NHL Network. Thumbs up.
- Now they’re showing people in the crowd and playing “Freeze Frame” with 30:00 on the clock. Thumbs down. Two thumbs down. Way too hokey. There’s zero drama right now. You’re basically ruining the anticipation by doing this. The abundance of crowd shots needs to be trimmed.
- They cut back to the “We Live Hockey” graphic and “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” by Elton John. Thank you.
- Lights are on with just under 24 minutes on the clock. Not sure when the teams are actually coming out, but I think it’d be much better for them to pop on as the teams come on the ice. Instead of getting one massive rush of anticipation, you’re giving a minor jolt which dissipates and now the fans are sitting and waiting unsure what the hell the lights just came on for. Gotta eliminate this dead spot.
- Now they’re playing a featurette on the scoreboard. Great, but the fans are getting lulled into indifference right now. If lights are off for this, people don’t have that visual cue to pay attention to the ice. Right now they’re distracted. Clock is at 19:30, so approaching five minutes of unnecessary lighting.
- Now showing a video preview of the game hosted by Kevin Sylvester. I like this video a lot. Just not the right situation to play it. 18:00 on the clock, players should be out on the ice momentarily. Play this five minutes ago with the lights still out, and go with dramatic music right now. Would be a great way to generate more energy.
- And now they’re playing music from Grease. 16:42 on the clock. Ugh. I’m about ready to jump from the press box and run. They’re playing this shit and the team is walking out of the locker room. Absolute joke.
- One of the things I complained about was the static graphics on the ribbon board during warmups, how it looked flat. Now they’re using an active Sabres graphic. The bowl pops a little more now. Upgrade.
- Still using MSG graphics on the scoreboard as they show each player. They look good on television, but they’re simply too hard to read in this environment. Make something unique.
- One of the things that I’ve campaigned for is some NHL stats and standings graphics on the board during warmups. It’d be incredibly easy to scroll stats along the side of the screen and show the players at once. Everything right now is way too simple. Bombard the fans here with information. They should know exactly how many points the Sabres are out of 8th right now. Don’t assume they do, because most don’t. Tell everyone how much this game matters. Make them care.
- Warmup music is pretty solid. The players usually pick it. Surprisingly, it’s appropriate for the situation. How does whoever picks the music not grasp that this is what the players want to hear? That this stuff works for the fans too? High tempo, high energy. Not hokey whatsoever. It’s just there, setting the tone. It doesn’t need to elicit a reaction. Take a hint.
- Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling” blasting through the arena. Pretty sure the guys picked it. It’s not an obvious thing to play right now, but it works. Just watching the guys on the ice, it seems like they’re into it. That is what matters most. No one ever really complains about the warm up music, because in most instances it’s the players picking it and they know best what works.
- Clock is reset, and the lights are all on. Zambonis on the ice while they make announcements. Kill the lights. Seriously. Indifference is setting in.
- They just played an NHL Network preview video that went around the league. Nice, but the lights are still on. This should be easy.
- What day of the week is it? Oh, it’s Saturday. So they’re playing “Almost Saturday Night” by John Fogerty. It technically already is Saturday night. So this song should’ve been played never. Stop trying to be so damn cheeky. The emphasis on picking songs based on the words instead of the tempo is the sign of someone trying to be cute instead of trying to set an appropriate tone.
- Oh, and here comes Kid Rock’s “God Bless Saturday” to follow up. Awful.
- Lights go dim at just over five minutes. The game preview now playing. They gotta get someone other than the PA guy to do the voiceover. Need someone with energy. Great addition to the pregame though. Thumbs up.
- Place goes dark as “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire comes on. Oh, and here comes the flag. The flag has to go. It distracts fans from the video. I mean, if you’re sitting there, you’re like “Hey, look! Here comes the flag! Oh wait, here’s a video that I can’t see cause I’m passing a flag around!” As a game presentation department, you have the crowd’s undivided attention. Don’t give them more than they can handle. You’re ruining it for yourself by trying to do two things at once. Grab the crowd’s attention and take them in one direction, not two.
- Rick Jeanneret intro video. Nice video, but not appropriate as the sole intro video. Just completely aggrandizing to the fans. Not enough focus on the actual players. Doesn’t get anyone excited. The intro video should be the climax of anticipation. Not some love fest for fans. We’re here to see this game. Not because we’re supposed to be here.
- Doug Allen is pure class.
- Eminem’s “Not Afraid” takes you from the anthems to faceoff. What was I saying earlier about worrying more about words than tempo? Place is silent after puckdrop.
- Seriously, it’s like somebody died. No energy whatsoever. Is this surprising to me? Not at all. Ambient noise is minimal.
- No high energy music in first two stoppages. Organ first, than some other garbage. Third stoppage, silence then organ. Seems like they’re not even on the same page.
- Finally, fourth stoppage brings some actual music, and the sterotypical AC/DC rears its ugly head. Creativity? Little. Crowd interest? Little.
- First television timeout and the ice crew comes out. In many other arenas, this is the first appearance of a team of attractive females in appropriate outfits fulfilling this role. Here, nothing. I would like this to change.
- New attempt to generate crowd noise by having audio of Niagara Falls with fitting graphics before imploring the crowd to cheer. It might work if it was the other way around, where you tell fans to cheer, then blast the audio, but I don’t like the fact that it’s needed. If you’re doing a good job, the fans cheer on their own. They shouldn’t need your cues.
- Second TV timeout, time for the Verizon rewind. Good feature. They’re using a decent song as a bed for it. Then they go into the welcome for the troops. Unfortunately the crowd goes silent as soon as the applause die. It might be better to lead off the break with the troops welcome. Let the fans cheer, take a break, and then be ready to get excited for play again. Might help a bit.
- The New York Lottery “By The Numbers” feature, my favorite, makes its appearance. Been a great addition to a weak feature lineup.
- The Aesthetic Associates Center can not possibly be paying enough of a sponsorship fee to justify this awful “Gr8 Smles” spot. So awful. Who approved this? You’ve gotta bring something more engaging to the table than that.
- Kids come out onto the ice for the shootout. I (along with many others I talk to) think they’d be better off letting the kids actually play instead of just a shootout. Let them skate around for a few minutes and get more fun than letting them stand there for five seconds of glory. I’m sure they do this to get the zambonis on to the ice quicker, but you can give them about the same amount of time anyways. Other arenas don’t struggle with that. Hell, I’ve seen other arenas do extended on-ice promotions. The Sabres do none.
- Kids have been done for a few minutes and the lights are still on. 9,000 people are falling asleep because they’re not engaged and the environment hasn’t been drastically changed to signal that it’s a break.
- They’re now playing “Moneygrabber” by Fitz and the Tantrums. Good song, but there’s no energy. Again, it’s not about whether a song is good or not, it’s whether it’s good-for-this-moment… and people are falling asleep.
- Quick “Around the NHL” spot that they do on MSG. I’d like to see something more extended there.
- Teams show up back on the ice. No dramatic entrance. Fans appear ready… to sleep.
- No apparent effort being made to bring energy to the building. If you’re looking for “fun” music, you’re in luck. If you’re looking to get psyched up for this hockey game, turn on your iPod.
- Here comes the blooper reel at your first television timeout. Not sure if it can get quieter, but if there’s anything that can kill a crowd, it’s this. I get that it’s sponsored. I assume it won’t be back next year. But they gotta find a way to renegotiate that deal. Don’t tell me it can’t be done, because that’d be a flat out lie.
- Tampa scores, and the flat crowd is flat as ever. I can hear guys on the ice from the press box.
- The Atwal Mad Minute is the kind of promotion they need more of. You can do that kind of stuff more often. You don’t need to spend half a television timeout showing people in the crowd.
- Tampa scores again. Crowd is flat. Sure, the on ice results have influence. But there’d be much more energy if they could cultivate it. They’ve done nothing tonight to prove they can do that.
- Kiss Cam is a necessary evil. Incredibly easy to sell sponsorships to. I’m not going to advocate getting rid of it because in today’s sports business world, that’d be a stupid thing for the organization to do. But they can pick a better bed than Fleetwood Mac to keep energy level up. But there’s no energy level to keep up, so I guess it doesn’t matter.
- Period ends with a whimper. Place is dead.
- High school shootout is nice, but isn’t it overkill to have a shootout during both intermissions? Can’t change it up a bit? Don’t wanna involve any people besides ones that actually play hockey?
- Lights remain on again. They had finally started dimming them the last couple games, but apparently any positive change isn’t allowed to last.
- They can probably limit birthdays to one intermission feature. Doing both is unnecessary. You can find ways to entertain the crowd and keep them engaged. Or you can be lazy and do neither and put up a couple graphics and play weak music.
- This “Shake Your Beauty” commercial for Blue Cross is awful. Healthy changes everything? These ugly women dancing are making me sick.
- Blows me away how many people sit here and stare blankly for 15 minutes because they’re not being engaged and yet nothing is being done to change it.
- Well, here’s them blasting “Desire” by U2 as the team comes back on the ice. This I approve of. Turn the volume up and save this mess.
- They’re making an effort to actually play appropriate music here and there. It’s just too late to save this crowd. Whitney Houston would fit right in with this bunch.
- Sabres score and the crowd erupts. The first appearance of “Lonely Boy” and it’s again the looped version of the first two lines of the chorus. Please go back to just letting it play. It works on its own.
- Ribbon board graphic for Jason Pominville has a Canadian flag on it. This needs to be fixed. Looks dumb when he’ll be playing for Team USA in April at the Worlds.
- TV timeout brings the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Dance Cam. A solid minute plus of showing morons dancing on the scoreboard. In the future, maybe consider some sponsored highlight packages that would probably work infinitely better.
- Second television timeout, time for Carubba Collision. They’ve been playing Pat Benatar with that for way too long. Nice, timely selection.
- After the 50/50, they segue into “Apache” and fans jumping around. You’d think they were up 9-1 right now. Or that this was the AHL.
- 7:55 left, Sabres take a penalty, and there’s a short break because of injury. This is when they decide to play “Enter Sandman” tonight. Timing is everything. That’s bad timing.
- They pull out “We Will Rock You” too. You know, you wouldn’t have to get this blatant if you did this stuff all game.
- Sabres call a timeout with 1:12 left, down 2-1 and the DJ responds with “Rock And Roll All Night” and then “Crazy Train” at the game’s critical point. Is “Mony Mony” next?
End of Game – Lightning 2, Sabres 1
- Cue the somber music. Yes, the Sabres lost, so everyone must go home miserable.
I had planned to do this because over the last few games, it was remarkable how many changes were made. While some have stuck around and show some growth in the product, in many cases, they’ve just reverted back to the old habits.
Tonight we saw a morose crowd for most of the night. It’s easy to blame what’s going on out on the ice for that. That’d be the easy and obvious thing to do, without analyzing the effects of each thing the game presentation does.
Ted Black frequently claims that the best game entertainment is winning. That’s a dangerous way to think as an organization. When people complain about the music or poor atmosphere, that’s not it. The game is the entertainment. The presentation, which fails to engage the crowd, is the issue. The game is what everyone’s here to watch. Assuming that people need to be entertained in spite of the game is the wrong way to look at this and the wrong way to treat it. Presentation is exactly that: presentation. Take the game and surround what goes on the ice with the optimal media to keep the crowd engaged. To emphasize the highs and minimize the lows. That’s what presentation is supposed to do.
Unfortunately, the presentation at First Niagara Center does the opposite. It’s inconsistent and too often, seems oblivious to the actual game. Therein lies the issue. You get the sense that they don’t go hand in hand. They should.
Changes have begun to come in go, as any drastic alterations usually give way to the way things were before, when they didn’t work. The goal song could be different Tuesday. Who knows.
The thing I’ve begun to question most is whether or not the people organizing the presentation recognize the issues or are willing to make drastic moves. I’ve begun to doubt it. The culture they’ve created at games is flawed. They can tweak all they want, but it’s more than a tweak. It’s not about directly creating fan interaction, telling people to cheer. It’s about creating the symphony that is the game, where the fans take it upon themselves. Where they organically begin to cheer because they’re led to believe that this is the moment they need to step up.
They wait for that organ to start playing, because if that organ doesn’t play, they don’t know when to start cheering. They’re not in the game.