With the NHL lockout in full swing, I find that I’m watching a lot more European hockey. It’s mostly highlights, plus the occasional streamed game when I can find the time. The Swedish Elite League, in particular, has a great site for highlights. One of the things I’ve noticed more than anything is the atmosphere inside the arenas. European hockey fans are loud, organized, and awesome.

In the background of every highlight package you can hear the fans singing, chanting, and clapping. Not applauding. Clapping. Videos of European hockey fans show them jumping up and down in unison, waving flags, throwing streamers, setting off smoke bombs, and just generally going crazy. Even if it’s only one section of the crowd, that one section is louder, rowdier, and more pumped-up than most arenas in the NHL.

There are certainly some arenas in the NHL that have a better atmosphere than others. The loudest arena I’ve been to has to be the home of the San Jose Sharks, the HP Pavilion, though it helps that I was there for one of the best games of the 2010-11 season, a 6-5 shootout victory for the Vancouver Canucks. It seemed like every time the Sharks got the puck, the building shook. And when something actually happened, it somehow managed to get louder.

Unfortunately, that’s not the norm. In general, North American hockey fans are content to sit and watch the action on the ice, only making noise as a response. As a result, the atmosphere in most arenas feels canned: I feel like I hear the same “Make some noi-oise!” cue in every single arena, whether NHL, AHL, or junior.

It seems like most hockey fans in North America are the type who want to watch the game more than they want to be part of an experience. Chants of “Go Team Go” start and then fizzle and particularly rowdy fans are often seen as more of a nuisance or a distraction. In certain environments, like the playoffs or international competition, North American fans get loud and wave flags (or playoffs towels), but in European hockey it’s the base level.

Personally, I would love to see that kind of fan culture invade NHL arenas, but I know it’s unlikely to happen. There are a number of reasons for the difference in fan behaviour between North America and Europe.

First off, hockey fans in Europe borrow a lot of their behaviour from soccer. The songs, the chants, the jumping in unison: they all originate with soccer fans. Hearing an entire soccer stadium singing the same song in unison is incredible. Soccer fans, or at the very least the diehards, are constantly making some sort of noise. The argument can be made that since soccer is a slower-paced sport that there’s more time to fill in soccer, leading to the need for these kinds of actions to keep things interesting, but when those same actions migrate seamlessly into European hockey arenas, it doesn’t hold up.

North American hockey fans, on the other hand, seem to borrow a lot of their behaviour from baseball. The two sports couldn’t be more dissimilar, but the fans often behave the same way. Plenty of quiet, civilized sitting until something of interest occurs, at which point fans jump up and cheer before sitting back down and getting back to hot dogs and beer. Baseball fans will boo when an opposing player they dislike goes up to bat, just like hockey fans might cheer whenever an opposing player they dislike touches the puck, but, for the most part, noise is for when something of interest takes place like a run (goal), a hit (hit), or a nice defensive play (some hockey fans will cheer a nice defensive play).

The second issue is ticket prices. Not to stereotype, but in general, the louder and more boisterous fans are blue collar types, while the white collar types tend to be more reserved. That isn’t to say that the blue collar fans are more dedicated or excited about their team than the white collar fans, but that they express that in different ways. In most arenas, blue collar fans are priced out of the lower bowl or may only be able to attend a few games per year.

In general, the type of fan traditions – chants, songs, and dances – that are so prevalent in European hockey depend on a core group of fans going to every game. It’s certainly possible for that to happen in North America. You can look at Major League Soccer for examples. For instance, the Vancouver Whitecaps have the Southsiders and the Seattle Sounders have the Emerald City Supporters. Tickets in the Southsiders section in Vancouver range from $20 to $31 for single tickets. Season tickets are under $200 for students and around $350 to $450 for adults. Single game tickets for the Canucks are, at minimum, $50, with little chance of actually getting them at face value. Season tickets start at about $2000.

Obviously, some arenas will be cheaper than that, but it underlines the difficulty in bringing in boisterous hockey fans on a regular basis. When the soccer team next door is bringing in a bunch of rowdy university students at under $200 for season tickets and the hockey team is charging 10x that amount, albeit for more games, it’s difficult to create the same type of atmosphere.

Thirdly, there is the design of the arenas. Many European arenas have sections that are standing room only. Perhaps, when you can’t sit down, you’re more likely to participate in cheering along with whatever crowd you are in. When you have the option of sitting, you take that option. Even if you want to remain standing, when everyone around you and, in particular, behind you sits down, you’ll generally sit down as well, if only to be polite. Remove that option with a section designed explicitly for standing with, perhaps, cheaper tickets and a loud cheering section might fill that area.

This just wouldn’t happen in most NHL arenas, as they’re designed to squeeze in as many seats as possible to wring as much ticket revenue as possible. The one arena where it might work is Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the Islanders will be moving in the near future. The arena isn’t designed for hockey, leading to some odd seating arrangements that will limit attendance to 14,500-15,000.

What if, then, some of those unusable seating areas were converted to low-price stands marketed to diehard Islanders fans to create a European-style cheering section? The Islanders need something to drum up fan excitement and it might be worth a shot. The Islanders already have the Blue and Orange Army aiming for exactly this type of atmosphere, complete with songs and chants. Encouraging that group with a section kitted out explicitly for them would be an interesting experiment.

The question, ultimately, is whether the atmosphere in NHL arenas is a problem. While I’m sure the players would love to play in louder arenas, I’m guessing that not every hockey fan has a problem with a quieter arena experience. There are likely some fans that would much prefer to attend games without a bunch of rowdy young people jumping up and down while chanting and singing around them. It might come down to ticket price again: if you pay $150 to see an NHL game, you likely want to actually focus on the game and not chance someone with a flag in front of you obscuring some of the action.

So what do you think? Would you want this type of atmosphere in the NHL? Do you think it’s even possible?

Comments (25)

  1. meh, it would be fun to experience once or twice. But by and large when I go to a game I want to be able to watch it.

    • You still can. As Daniel said over here there is still plenty of seating. Typically (in Sweden that is) one of the short ends of the arena is reserved for the home teams standing fans and the opposite end for opposing fans.

      Speaking of opposing fans. This is as I understand it another thing that differs from Europe and North America. A lot of supporters travel with their team to away games over here. This create great atmosphere as the two groups of supporters “duel eachother” on the stands. It’s a real kick to go somewhere with a bunch of other supporters and actually take over the oppositions arena with singing and chanting.

      Lastly the downside of all this is that supporter violence is more common in Europe (and in Sweden). More so in soccer of course but also in hockey. Most of the time the rivalry on the stands is a fun one where you poke fun at the other fans/teams with different songs and chants. A small percentage of the “supporters” (I don’t like calling them supporters) can’t handle going toe-to-toe with rival supporters with singing and then go out for a beer with them after the game.

      (Sorry for butchering your language…)

      • The big difference in North America in terms of travelling support is the space you have to cover to go to an away game. You’ll get a fair number of visiting Rangers fans in philly, and other similarly close cities, but for the most part we’re talking about long flights to follow your team. Add in the fact that getting tickets in other cities isn’t always easy (or cheap) and it makes the travelling to watch your team concept hard to implement in North America.

  2. “The argument can be made that since soccer is a slower-paced sport that there’s more time to fill in soccer, leading to the need for these kinds of actions to keep things interesting, but when those same actions migrate seamlessly into European hockey arenas, it doesn’t hold up.”

    But it doesn’t migrate seamlessly. Yes the spectacle of it does but how many of those people are really watching the game? How closely are you following the puck when you’re waving a flag for 10 minutes and have 500 placards in front of you? Who took that shot? Can you tell through the smoke and the 20 umbrellas in front of you?

    It’s fun to watch but what is even more fun to watch is hockey.

    • I don’t quite get the author’s assertion that Americans are used to sitting and doing nothing because baseball is slow, but Europeans need filler and create tons of activities because soccer is slow…Baseball in Japan is very much like what’s being described here for European hockey. I think we’re just boring here in North America.

    • Well, die European fans are usually waving der flags and hold up some placards, when the team comes on the ice. When the game starts they are usually just singing and clapping. Sometimes they are raising their hands, but there isn’t really a problem to watch the game.
      And if you really want to watch the game there isn’t a problem either, because it is usually just those fans who buy the ceaper standing tickets. If you just want to watch the game you can do so as well and enjoy the fans cheering their team up.

  3. I love that kind of atmosphere, it can mean you have an entertaining experience even if the game is boring. That’s why I loved going to TFC games even when they were a bad team, because BMO field also had a section of devoted fans who sang and cheered and threw streamers at opposing players when they had a corner kick on their side.

  4. In the past two seasons a group of Devils fans that have named themselves the Diablos have been trying to energize one of the sections of the upper bowl in the European style. They stand throughout the game chanting and waving banners. A lot of them are also members of the NY Red Bulls (MLS) supporters section (though the name escapes me) and for a game last season brought in the Red Bulls supporters with drums and the atmosphere was electric.

    It’s a shame more fans don’t have this mentality even in the upper bowl. I sit in the front row of one of the 200s sections at Prudential Center. In the closing minute of a playoff game we were winning my father and I stood up to cheer as the clock wound down. Some guys behind us yelled at us to sit down and I turned around and told them if they’re not going to stand for the team when they’re about to win a playoff series then they should go home and watch the games on TV.

  5. Yes,it’d be great, but no, it won’t happen

    But if you want a feel for that here in North America, go enjoy an NCAA game. I was at a home opener last year- marching bands set up in the stands, school songs,team colors, noise.

    And that was the Women’s team.

  6. I’m not certain about hockey arenas, but any soccer stadium that is UEFA approved certainly does not have sections without seats. That was the case in the 80′s, but things like Hillsborough put an end to that practice.

    • Actually, it’s just in England that standing room has been removed from stadiums (in great part due to Hillsborough). The rest of Europe continues to have standing room, along with cheaper ticket prices.

  7. “Even if you want to remain standing, when everyone around you and, in particular, behind you sits down, you’ll generally sit down as well, if only to be polite.”

    I don’t know about your arenas… but they actually announce to be seated while the puck is in play at the games I’ve attended.

  8. I really hope they do something like that at Barclays. I mentioned it yesterday as a solution to the ‘horseshoe’ problem. It could help attract more of the Eastern European folks living in Brooklyn as well.

    The Isles have a chance to defibrilate the organization, I really hope they take full advantage.

  9. what you advocate would be better than sitting next to two women discussing their bra sizes or a couple of guys doing much the same, but i’m with twoeightnine: i want to watch the game, which is why a big screen tv beats going to a game anytime. of course i’m an olde guy and am no longer into hooting and hollering, usually the result of having had one too many and no longer really caring about the skill level of those performing, be they a rock band or a sports team; however, i digress, and do have other things to do today.

    • I love hockey on TV, but I’ve got to say that there is absolutely nothing like seeing a game live.

  10. How fast would someone complain in a Canadian rink that pays $200 a ticket for a lower bowl seat when another fan had a huge flag obstruct their view? That flag would be tolerated for about 15 seconds. Sadly, this is much of the problem.

  11. I would absolutely love this type of atmosphere in an NHL arena. I acknowledge the difficulties of achieving this because of NA sports culture, arena layouts and such. However I have been a proponent of creating 2-3,000 standing room sections for a long time. I think getting the college-age and young professionals in a city excited about going to a game for an affordable price would be great. If there’s beer, cheap tickets, and a good atmosphere, that is an automatic magnetic draw. Some minor league sports teams draw well for this very reason. In fact, I think in order to grow, the AHL fans would be a good place to start.

  12. I agree entirely, how much fun does that look like?!

    Here’s thoughts from a Jets fan who has spent the last few years living in Vancouver:

    First, I went to the CAN-GER quarterfinal game at the Olympics and sat fourth row. When Sydney Crosby had a penalty shot in the third I stood cheering like any hockey fan would, only to be asked by a guy behind me to “sit down” because he couldn’t see. I looked at him bewildered and said “Stand up! The hell’s the matter with you?” If you want to sit and watch hockey, watch it on TV.

    Second, having gone to a Whitecaps game the Southsiders made the experience, everyone wants to sit in that section. I hate to give Vancouver any credit, but the Southsiders prove that Vancouver fans don’t have to suck, and that a lower bowl filled with “suits” really does spoil the atmosphere at Rogers Arena.

    Third, as a Jets fan I was awfully proud of what Winnipeg’s faithful accomplished without any fan organization, but this still falls short of European standards. Imagine if a fan club organized songs and chants? MTS Center could actually get louder this year…

  13. As an English football/hockey fan, two things spring to mind here.

    1. Football stadiums in Europe are a lot bigger than ice rinks and so by and large in football stadiums you pick the section you sit in based upon what kind of fan you are. At most football clubs it will be well known which section of seating the die hard boisterous fans sit in. So you get options depending on what experience you want.

    2. The “duel” as someone above put it with the away fans is I think a large part of what has built this kind of atmosphere. A lot of football clubs have deep and long traditions and rivalries are intense, this extends to country rivalries built on the national teams and world cups and european cups aswell. Fans have all of this history and rivalry to exploit. I think it would be hard to breed that atmosphere in the NHL when you don’t have a dedicated section of away fans you are singing at to keep them quiet.

    For example, its a matter of pride that in England if you go to an away football game, if you out sing your oponents in their own stadium then it gives your team a real boost. This kind of thing wouldn’t/doesn’t happen in the NHL.

    The National pride thing is interesting too, check out Dutch fans at any sporting event, absolutely anything they go and see, they are decked out in Orange and have their little bouncy seat dance, the atmosphere they create is a part of their blueprint as a nation.

    For a taste of how spine tingling English football fans can be, nothing beats Liverpool fans and their famous anthem “You’ll never walk alone”


    And this is coming from a Nottingham Forest fan!

  14. Krefeld has the best fans in Germany! Forza 1936!!

  15. Hello from Germany.

    May occur in the standing American would be possible and would bring the arena operators even more money because more people would fit in the respective block of the arena.

    You could do like in Nürnberg, there are still general admission seats remain but fold up when playing hockey. Or as here in Hanover as the seating in the general admission area is degradable. There are also arenas where there are seats where the Supporters are only. However, this area is issued specifically as fan block. It is an indication of where it is to be expected in this area with a view blocked by standing fans and flags.

    It would be the mood in the NHL I guess greatly help. We often hear when you are with players from the NHL maintains that the atmosphere here in Germany is something very special. This mood does not only so in the DEL but also in the minor leagues. Usually it creating the supporters join in the whole arena / stadium. I guess it would also be in the NHL one worth trying. :-)

    I hope for all the NHL fans in your league, it soon goes on and the lock-out is over soon.

  16. Greets from germany!
    here are the games between the teams everytime an adventure. We fans have alt of fun and the league here realy good. You can see lot of livestreams on laola1.tv or on servus tv . Just google!
    Take care and have fun with the europe hockey

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