Nothing seems to slow down the attendance juggernaut that the Minnesota Wild have become since their inaugural season. Fans pack the stands, flood the gates, and buy, buy, buy all the merch and concessions they can get. And rightly so. The Minnesota Wild and Xcel Energy Center offers one of the most consistently great fan experiences because of the building amenities, sight lines, atmosphere, and relatively decent product over the past 18 years.
The Wild had 409 consecutive sell-outs from opening night until the dark years of the franchise hit in 2009. Impressive for any franchise, to say the least. But even if the sell-out streak ended, it was but a small speed bump. Fans continually show up for this team. Just last season, the Wild ranked second in the entire NHL for attendance percentage. According to the Xcel Energy Center’s website, the maximum capacity for hockey is 18,300. Average attendance, according to ESPN.com, was 19,036 which totals attendance figures at 106 percent!
But that doesn’t mean the fan experience can’t be adjusted and tweaked.
Let’s start with the things the Wild as a part of Game Operations that should stick. The planting of the flag at center ice is a great tradition. It certainly beats some of the gimmicky fixtures that other teams have to bring the players on to the ice. The Wild don’t need a fake Nordy head to skate through like the Sharks do in San Jose. Nor do they need a forest of fake trees like the Oilers have with their oil well. Nope, let the kid skate to center ice, plant the flag, and let’s move on. It’s great in its simplicity.
The declaration of “Let’s Play Hockey” with rotating guests is great. Who can forget Neal Broten ripping a Dallas Stars jersey off to expose a Wild sweater when the Stars made their first ever appearance to St. Paul in 2000. Or what about former Governor Tim Pawlenty pooching the whole thing when he fumbled the words and said, “All right fans, it’s time to drop the fucking puck!” When the USA Mens’ Curling Team, National Champion Gopher Womens’ hockey, Olympic Gold medal winning USA Womens’ team, or other notable names declare that it’s time to drop the puck, it’s a fine way to get the game underway. It probably doesn’t rival “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at Wrigley, but I like the tradition nonetheless.
The pregame hype video and light show is all the rage now. I guess other teams are doing it, so might as well keep it. Plus, it’s another reason to use the giant video board and subsequent ribbon boards in the arena.
I’m OK with “Let’s Go Crazy.” It’s annoying that every other Minnesota team has it as a part of their scoring music repertoire, but it’s not like it’s bad. Honestly, it could go back to the totally bland and milquetoast “Crowd Chant” or Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll pt 2,” and that would be bad.
But there are things that need to be changed. This franchise has shown that it owns a strong brand in Minnesota, and it can pat itself on the back for winning back hockey fans in the state that were alienated when the North Stars left town.
Among the things that must happen immediately is the un-retiring of the “Wild Fans” number one. A team shouldn’t have to make such a public display of affection for their fans and patrons with the retiring of a number in the rafters. It’s downright pandering. It’s like getting a pat on the head for being a good boy, or girl, while they siphon the cash out of your wallet at the concession stands. No, take the number, let a goalie or other player wear it, and retire it when the player deserves the honor. Instead, show some appreciation by keeping a solid product on the ice, have some cool giveaways, and maybe even make reaching into my pocketbook slightly more bearable.
Can we do away with the advertised techno power play announcements? Adam Abrams is a decent public address announcer. He may not have the booming voice that the Avalanche and Vikings employ, or maybe have the charisma of that Dick Jonckowski had for the Gophers, but he does a fine job at it. But when they turn up that echo effect and play that techno music underneath, “Fans, it’s time now for an Xcel Energy POOOOOOOWER PLAAAAAY!” and the echo can be heard in the concourse until Ryan Suter steps off the ice for a shift change, it’s a problem. We know it’s a power play, you just told us the penalty being assessed to the opposition. And if it the revenue generated by that is too significant to pass up, can we figure out a way to kill the echo effect?
Please stop hiring the T-shirt fan hype guy. Just stop. This professional fan guy that gets paid to dance around and rip t-shirts off his hide is weird. I get that the fan atmosphere in the arena isn’t raucous or rowdy like Nashville, Vegas, or New York, but T-shirt guy is a gimmick. And now that people know it’s a gimmick, it feels cheap, and even kind of pathetic that the team needed to hire outside help to get fans more involved.
Speaking of cheap, I went to a preseason game last year and noticed that fan noise seemed piped in. It came at times right before the faceoff and in the form of a pre-recorded ‘Let’s Go Wild’ chant. Don’t be Red McCombs and cheapen the experience with piped in noise. I don’t know if that continued in to the regular season, but it wasn’t a good look from the Game Ops staff. Minnesota fans will cheer when the team on the ice gives them reason to cheer. It’s actually like that across all Minnesota sports, so to think that it’s only a Minnesota Wild fan thing, it’s wrong.
But let’s not let fans totally off the hook.
We need to talk about the “Let’s Go Wild” chant. “Let’s” is one syllable, “Go” is one syllable, and while “Wild” is a little weird with the way the vowels and consonants roll off the tongue, it too is a one syllable word. Meaning, the sing-song four beat “Let’s Go Wild (why-old)” followed by five claps is all wrong. It was wrong when it started in 2000 and it’s wrong now. To execute the three syllable “Let’s Go Wild” chant, the beat must be changed. Yes, that means Nordy and his drum need to help with this change. Hit the bass drum three times and only three times. Fans should respond with the proper beat for the chant. If we do this, we can stop being mocked by so many fans across the league. Oh, and it needs to be a deep bass kick, not the horn toot like what the Blues employ.
Lastly, concessions are just too damn much. Do as the Atlanta Falcons have done, and reduce the price of the standard arena fare. It’s fine to have the premium sandwiches, and other specialty items that cost a bit more, but no way should a soda or water cost $4 or more. A hot dog shouldn’t cost more than a couple bucks. Stop pricing families out of attending games with the already high ticket prices, the cost of parking, and money for souvenirs. Concession prices have become absolutely insane.
I probably only touched on just a few of the things that could be improved in terms of fan experience at Wild games. You probably have a few things on your mind as well. In the comments below, feel free to add your own ideas, or issues when attending sports events and we can try and help inspire change. HAHAHA, probably not.