• Ian Stacker

You CAN stop the music

For the first couple of minutes of the NBL season opener between the Bullets and the Wildcats on Thursday night I thought they had finally got it! Finally understood how to involve their crowd in the game, how to make the fans feel part of the action and how to keep the fans coming back week after week! BUT then it started…. the music over the PA while the game was in play, effectively cancelling out any cheering or jeering the crowd may have wanted to impart.

It’s been interesting reading some of the comments on social media around the music being played at NBL games during the preseason and it was also something of an issue last season too as I recall.

I don’t think there is an issue with the NBL game that I find more annoying than the constant music being played during game time. It’s not just an issue for the NBL as I’ve been to WNBL and SEABL games too where for some reason the people involved with game night presentation seem to think that pumping 1000 decibels of crap music over the PA system will somehow get the crowd fired up or somehow provide some sort of atmosphere for the game.

It’s actually a FIBA rule that music is not allowed to be played over a PA system while the game is in play which is why you never hear it at most other games played around the world – its particularity unique to Australia and part of the reason why we’ve lost many basketball supporters over the years. I stopped taking my kids to NBL games as I found the volume of the music too loud, and my hearing is less than perfect.

This is a topic I have been quite passionate about for some time now and I have written and presented about it to NBL owners, NBL CEO’s and my own teams game night presentation people while in Townsville with pretty much no impact – such is my influence!!

However now with the power of social media I will present my case once again.

As near as I can remember it when John Rymarz was appointed CEO of the NBL things started to change as far as game night presentation went. I think he started in 1997. John had been CEO of Pepsi Cola and came in with this vision of the “entertainment package” everything accept the actual game became the priority. We kind of got lost as to why people were actually coming to the basketball… watch the basketball! It was the peak of the boom period of the sport and the start of a slow decline over the next twenty years or so.

Now there have been plenty of reasons why the NBL has been up and down over the years, down for most of the past twenty years and I don’t intend to go into every reason why. But, if we can look at game night and change a few things then maybe we can keep the upward trend of fans returning to NBL venues and maximise what was clearly the best season for a long time last year – well done to those running the show now.

In 1988 (I know I’m old) I was lucky enough to have my first professional development tour to the USA. Brian Goorjian had asked me to be his assistant coach in his debut season with the Eastside Spectres NBL team so I wanted to head to the States and see what I could learn from the best coaches over there. My good friend Tom Maher and I headed off on a tour to visit the University of Arizona where Lute Olson was Head Coach (we had met Lute when he visited Australia earlier that year). While I had been to the States once before as a player it was my first visit to a big Division 1 program. We were invited to their first game for the season which was to be an inter team scrimmage – so they were just playing themselves, and a crowd of 15,000 turned up for the game.

The involvement of the crowd in the game was amazing, and I used that word involvement as a key message for the game night suggestions. Steve Kerr played for Arizona at this time and every time he scored a basket the court announcer would go “Steve Keeerrrrrr”, then 15,000 people would also call out his name. It’s a bit like when Bruest scores a goal for Hawthorn in the AFL and the crowd call out “Bruuuuuust”, except it’s twice as loud in a basketball venue.

During that Arizona game there were about 10 other situations that involved the crowd, the noise and atmosphere was electric, and this was a game against themselves!

The next night Tom and I headed to the University of Nevada in Las Vegas for a couple of days and had the privilege of seeing Jerry Tarkainian and his team practise. They are still the hardest working group of players I have ever seen and they virtually had a NBA squad including Larry Johnson, Stacey Augman, Greg Anthony, Anderson Hunt, Derrick Butler. Legendary assistant coach Tim Grgurich was also with the program – but I digress.

While we were there UNLV played their season opener which was against the Soviet Union National team. This is the team that went on to win the Olympic Gold medal later that year. Players included Arvydas Sabonis, Alexander Volkov, Šarūnas Marčiulionis,Valeri Tikhonenko, Alexander Belostenny, Sergei Tarakanov, Rimas Kurtinaitis, Valdemaras Chomičius, Igors Miglinieks, Viktor Pankrashkin, Valeri Goborov and Russian coaching legend Alexander Gomelsky. They were big time and the game was unbelievable. Sorry I get distracted just thinking back to it.

Anytime during the game when play was about to resume (after a time out or start of a quarter) the school band would start to play the slow, scary shark attack music from Jaws. (Jerry Tarkanian was known as Tark the Shark) and 18,000 people in the new Thomas and Mack Centre would slowly start to clap their hands in an up and down motion (think shark jaws) and as the pace of the music increased, the pace of the clapping increased, it was very impressive and very much crowd involvement. The Running Rebels went on to beat the Russians and while it was one of the best games I have seen it was also one of the biggest screw jobs I have seen, I guess in Vegas the Rebels win no matter what!!

The next night we went back to Arizona who were also going to play the Russians. I can still remember my excitement heading to the game, it was excitement not only for the game that was about to take place but also excitement to see how the Wildcats crowd would try to influence the game and again it was thrilling. The Cats lost – I think World War three would have broken out if the Russians got screwed again – but I came away forever convinced that crowd involvement was what was missing from our local product.

They don’t need to be entertained, they need to be involved.

It was clear that the Wildcats crowd, as with every other college basketball crowd I have seen in the years since, go to the game to be a participant. They aim to do all they can to help their team win, they ride the opposition players, the referees and do all they can to help the confidence of the home team.

They don’t just sit there drowned out by rap music being blasted over the PA system.

Can you imagine if the AFL tried to play rap or any other kind of music over the PA during an AFL game? In fact, they did try it a couple of times a few years ago, they surveyed their crowd on how they liked it and it received an overwhelming thumbs down. It has never been back and AFL crowds have grown and grown.

My old club the Townville Crocodiles were probably among the worst of them. We had music played over the PA for practically 48 minutes of the game, every change of possession the music would change. It got to be a distraction for me in the later years, I warned the club we needed to try to involve the crowd more but they thought I was crazy. They thought they had the best game night entertainment package in the league. It was sad to see in the years after I had left the crowd slowly disappearing to a point where virtually no one went anymore and they recently folded. Game night presentation is not the only reason but it was part of the problem. Instead of giving the crowd ownership of the night, they felt they needed to be entertained. Guess they were wrong.

College teams provide music via the school bands who play during breaks in play and the live music helps add to the already awesome atmosphere at these games. Brian Kerle used to have a live band play at Brisbane Bullets games at Auchenflower Stadium back in the day. It provided a great vibe to the place but for whatever reason they were soon replaced by the PA system DJ.

I’m not going to go into everything college and NBA teams do to involve their crowds, search it on google and you will find countless examples of how the crowd get into the game.

I was amazed a few years ago when as AIS coach I presented to the NBL CEO’s at the time on the merits of recruiting players from the AIS. Part of my presentation included some comments on game night (music) and I was amazed to find that not one of them had ever attended a basketball game outside of Australia. If we want to find out how to do it better, then those people need to get out and see what the best in the world are doing.

While game night presentation and crowd involvement in the USA is great it falls a little short of what you get in Europe. Those guys are crazy! If you tried to play music over the PA system during play it would probably be drowned out by the singing and cheering of the fans. They go to the game to have a great time and help their team win. They feel a part of the result as they know they can influence the result.

I hope one day the people running game nights here in Australia will change their focus from ENTERTAINING the crowd to INVOLVING the crowd, then we will see crowds growing again and our product will once again be the boom sport.

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