I went to a hockey game with CBCC on Saturday. It was amazing. We had a good old time and learned a little bit more about the Swedish ice hockey culture. Which is very different than what we always saw back in the US, it was an adventure, and even a little educational. In a cultural sport sort of way.
The fans were nuts. There were only about 7,000 people at the arena. Which was almost a full house. But they were a rowdy 7,000 people. It was incredible, pretty cool, and kind of creepy at times. A whole section of fans seemed to be some sort of fan support club. CBCC dubbed them the hockey hooligans. Anyway, this group of fans chanted throughout the game. Not just cheering or the occasional "Red Wings Suck!" chant, they chanted for the whole game. Made hand gestures to go with the chants. And everyone knew them. There were even little kids emulating the chants. Incredible. Very cool, but somewhat frightening. The power of the mob is amazing.
The marketing environment surrounding hockey was interesting as well. Instead of packing the arena with seats so that people could be smashed up against the glass there was quite a bit of room between the rink and the fans, and that allowed for a ring of sponsor ads. It seems that sponsorship and ad revenue is more important than the number of fans in the building. Of course, considering the game was almost sold out I suppose the argument could be made that they were doing it the right way and just squeezing a little bit more money out of the empty space. But I say put some seats there and then jack up the price so people can sit right next to the glass. That’s an experience that’s hard to replicate when a big hairy defenseman checks another big hairy forward into the glass and all that separates you from his smooshed face is a little bit of plexiglass.
The actual hockey was really good. Very high level of play and just a hell of a show. There was even a penalty shot, which is by far the most exciting moment in all of sports. Nothing can compare. The entire arena is absolutely enthralled by the one-on-one battle unfolding. Time stands still, or at least the game clock does, and in the blink of an eye the game can be completely different than it was just a few seconds before.
The goalie takes a few strides out towards the skater as the skater comes fullbore with some idea of what he’s going to do, but not really sure. He reads the goalie to see if he gives any opening, a tell if you will, and then he pops that shot off. Sometimes it’s just too easy for the goalie, and he snags the puck, and skates off in that badass way. Sometimes, the skater makes it look too easy and the goalie lies on his ass embarrassed to get up as the skater strides away a hero. And sometimes the most painful noise in sports can be heard ringing through the arena. The crossbar. I’ve seen no-hitters go into the 7th inning, I’ve seen basketball buzzer beaters, last minute drives in football, but nothing compares to a penalty shot in ice hockey.
Man, I love sports.