The NHL’s in-game entertainment experience is broken. Here’s how to fix it

Adam Proteau
Goalie Race (STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR)
Goalie Race (STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR)

The off-season is when NHL teams examine their rosters and look to improve. But as we know, there’s more to every franchise’s business dealings than the players themselves. There’s also the matter of the in-arena experience for fans who spend big money on tickets. While some teams are better at it than others, there’s lots of room for improvement in the way paying customers are entertained 41 nights per season. Here are three easy ways to do that:

1. Enough of the same old song. At the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the same songs often are played not just game after game, but in the exact same circumstances every night. (I’m not talking about a team’s “goal song”. That’s fine.) While there are hundreds, if not a few thousand people on any given night who may only attend one or two games a year, there are many more who are season-ticketholders in attendance every night. It’s indefensible to subject them to a near-identical, cookie-cutter in-game experience, but that’s the reality in many rinks.

Instead of leaning on songs everyone has heard numerous times before, teams could either branch out and use a wide variety of music – or hire a live band that could inject some personality into the mix and react to what happens during the game with different song choices. Same goes for intermission entertainment: NBA teams have brought in retro bands to engage crowds before:

and there’s no reason NHL teams can’t do the same. It sure beats the goalie race, which may be the lamest thing ever seen in pro hockey:

2. No more boring skits. For some reason, NHL teams are convinced their fans want to see predictable “comedy” skits between the whistles. For example, in Toronto, virtually every game features this guy:

I know what you’re thinking: who cares about hockey – how much money do I need to pay to see some team employee pretend he’s just a normal fan inspired by the late John Denver to dance like a maniac? Or maybe you’re enthralled by the idea of watching a phony marriage proposal gone awry:

Sarcasm aside, it’s clear these are tired concepts that do nothing for anyone other than the easily amused. Rather than bore regular customers to tears with them, why not get creative? Post a 30-second or one-minute exclusive interview with a fan favorite player or alumni. Or – and here’s a really interesting notion – just let fans take in the emotion of the moment. If the game is tied late in the third period, we don’t need any distraction. Let the crowd start its own cheer (and don’t get me started on constant JumboTron pleas for cheering) or chant, the way soccer fans do.

Having something organic come out of a game is bound to make it more memorable to the average fan than a by-the-numbers exercise in familiarity.

3. Spend some money on the intermission. As mentioned earlier, some NHL teams are only too happy to go bargain-basement with their intermission entertainment: quickie games featuring little kids are cute, but they get less cute when they take place every game. Why not mix in a 10-minute exclusive video documentary – like Grantland.com’s 30-for-30 shorts – every so often?

If you did, you’d be giving something to the fans in attendance they couldn’t get anywhere else. That’s the type of added value paying customers deserve.