What got me really interested in sports marketing was the ability of organizations to build a fan base and create a following through promotions, traditions, and more. Creating a culture is something that all teams strive for and only some succeed in.
Traditions are a great sign that a sport is really taking off, especially when they are started by the fans. They help fans become part of the team and wanting more. This leads to them buying tickets, memorabilia and other merchandise. I am a huge fan of fan traditions and here are my top 10 fan-based traditions in sports:
1. Octopus in Detroit
Back in the day, when the NHL had just six teams in the league, it required just eight victories to win the Stanley Cup. Detroit Red Wings fans started a tradition where they would throw an octopus, which has eight tentacles, onto the ice. That tradition has since stuck and is done at every game.
2. Hat Tricks
Whenever someone scores 3 goals in hockey or soccer, it is called a “hat trick” and fans throw their hats on the ice. It’s almost like an obligation (even though it isn’t!).
3. White Towels
After numerous bad penalty calls in a 1982 playoff game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Vancouver Canucks head coach Roger Neilson waved a towel on the end of a hockey stick to signal surrender. The team came home for the next game and a tradition was born. Canucks fans have waved towels during every playoff game since then and it has turned into a free item for simply coming to games. Other teams in other leagues have since adapted this tradition.
Hockey fans in Pittsburgh and Winnipeg started what was called a “White-Out”, where fans would only wear white to playoff games. The end result was a tide of white in the stands. When the Jets moved from Winnipeg to Phoenix, Coyotes fans continued the tradition and still do it to this day. Penguins fans also still hold true to the tradition.
5. Red Sox Fans Singing “Sweet Caroline”
The Red Sox started playing Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline in-between innings late in games and fans sung along. It became the 8th inning tradition at some point in the 2000’s. The team even invited Diamond to sing at a game.
6. Fans Singing National Anthem
Canucks anthem singer Mark Donnelly debuted in 2003 and made fan participation his goal. He succeeded. Fans would sing the middle verses of ‘O Canada’ while Donnelly did the first and last verses. That feeling sent chills down everyone’s spines, including mine.
7. Liverpool Fans Singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”
Everyone in Europe goes crazy for soccer (football). It’s a fact. Fans of the English Premier League’s team Liverpool sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” when it’s played over the stadium speakers. It was a tradition dating back decades ago when the game operations crew always played the top 10 popular songs prior to the start of the game. The top song would be right before the opening. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was one of them and became a hit.
8. Fans Singing To Whatever Is Being Played
The Red Wings game operations crew might be the best in the business. They pick the right songs for the right times and get fan involvement going. It also helps to have a musically-knowledgeable fan base too. I absolutely love their sing-alongs during the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.
9. Goal Chants
The fans of the Nashville Predators have made a tradition out of chants. They specifically do chants during the goal song and two more right after the goal is announced. They have other chants. Most of these begin and are orchestrated by Section 303 – ‘The Cellblock’. See if you can make out what is being said and leave a comment saying what you think it is!
10. Blackhawks Fans Cheering During National Anthem
Prior to the 1991 NHL All-Star Game in Chicago, it had been announced that day that the United States was sending military forces into Iraq to combat the war at the time. An outburst of patriotism was on display during the National Anthem at the game as fans cheered throughout it. That turned into a Blackhawks tradition that still goes on today.