Six ways to make the ACC louder and more hostile
Let us turn our attention to noise.
Earlier this season, Ron Wilson was asked about the ACC crowd. It was after a game and the reporter wanted to know if Wilson could "hear" the fans.
Yes, he replied. Good or bad, you hear everything. He then offered an analogy: A hockey crowd is like a "sixth skater."
He's right. And that's precisely why his analogy made me wince.
Let's face it, on most nights at the ACC, the "sixth skater" is doing slow Figure 8's in the parking lot. It's wearing a blade guard on one skate and spilling hot chocolate down the front of its turtleneck. It's yawning and taking a nap in a snow bank.
Toronto's sixth skater may as well be in a body bag.
In other cities – Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Detroit – the "sixth skaters" really do provide a "home ice advantage." They raise a bloody ruckus. They intimidate visitors. They help build momentum. They give the five real skaters an invisible and enduring boost.
So what can be done to improve the ACC atmosphere? How can the building become more electric and less comatose? How can we make it louder for the Leafs and more hostile for their opponents?
Here now, six humble suggestions:
Just hear me out: Imagine if the cheapest seats were closest to the ice. Imagine if the real fans – the ones who arrive to watch hockey and not close a deal – were closest to the action. Now imagine how the mood would change inside the ACC with this inverted seating.
I know what you're thinking: This is a ridiculous idea! Why would the people paying the most money want to sit up in the nose bleeds?
But what if the nose bleeds were no longer just rows of tiered seating with questionable sightlines? What if the upper ring of the ACC was retrofitted into a series of open concept lounges with martini stations, sushi bars and cocktail waitresses in slinky outfits?
So the Purple section is now the Platinum section. It's full-service everything, free WI-FI, flat screens with rolling stock prices. Conference rooms? Sure. Leather recliners? Why not.
And now instead of missing the action between periods because they are clustered inside peripheral lounges, the high rollers can simply remain inside their permanent lounges to schmooze and mingle.
Meanwhile, down below, you suddenly have an arena jammed with real fans. You no longer have hundreds of empty seats. You have energy. And the Leafs finally have a worthy sixth skater.
You know those fans that go to sports bars covered in blue face paint? The ones that hang out of moving vehicles after playoff victories? The ones that wear vintage jerseys to the office on game days and spend the entire afternoon bellowing, "LEEEAAAFFSS!!!" at puzzled co-workers?
The ACC needs more of these fans.
So here's the idea: A team of behavioural specialists spreads out across the city to track down the loudest, craziest Leaf fans they can find. Then these rowdy fans are put on the MLSE payroll and given season tickets that are strategically positioned throughout the building.
Now in every section, there is a ringer. There is a paid hooligan who is under contract to start a "Go Leafs Go!" chant. There is a fan that will stand throughout the night and loudly encourage opposition stars to do things that are anatomically impossible.
There is a leader.
What is the best way to create an electric atmosphere? In a word: booze.
MLSE? Do everybody a favour and immediately slash the price of all alcoholic beverages by 80 per cent. Don't talk to me about concession sales or profit margins, okay? You are the richest franchise in the league.
The least you can do is get us liquored up so we can help you win.
Let's say the inverted seating idea proves too radical or impractical. Here's the backup plan: Seat fillers.
Why don't we already do this? If the Academy Awards can manage, surely MLSE can master the logistics of temporarily swapping bodies during a hockey game.
You know how many people can't afford to see the Leafs play anymore? It's brutal. So what if a few hundred of these people, on a rotating basis, went to games on "stand by."
Usher: "Hey, look! Four people near the glass have just left with their BlackBerries. That's at least 7 minutes of game time. Go!"
Suddenly, there would be no more wide-angle TV shots that convey a pathetic wasteland of empty seats. Suddenly, the Leafs wouldn't have to glance up from the bench half-way into the second period and wonder, "Where the hell is everybody?"
Here's a $1,000 bet I'm willing to make with anybody: Next time you're at the ACC for a Leafs game, you will hear The Tragically Hip, AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses or all three.
Don't misunderstand. There's nothing wrong with any of these bands. But how many times must we be exposed to "Fifty-Mission Cap" or "You Shook Me All Night Long" or "Welcome To The Jungle" until the capacity to rouse is reduced to zero?
I don't have any specific musical suggestions. Everybody has different taste.
But it seems to me, MLSE marketers should be able to survey Leafs Nation and draw up a new list of songs that doesn't require a time machine and/or mullet to be fully enjoyed.
If you've attended a Leafs game this season, you are no doubt familiar with the public service announcements that kindly ask patrons to crank up the volume.
Seriously. That's about it.
"1, 2, 3… Get LOUD!" "SCREAM!" "Make Some Noise!"
These PSAs arrive during stops in the action, usually when the broadcaster goes to commercial (which is why you rarely hear them when watching at home).
These PSAs are also the absolute worst thing the Leafs can do for atmosphere.
For starters, telling people to get loud assumes they are quiet. In other words, these PSAs are validating the conditional silence and creating a self-fulfilling prophesy.
But more important, these PSAs create artificial noise spikes. On a subconscious level, once a fan complies with the PSA, the default action is to sit on his/her hands for most of the night because suddenly the very act of cheering is now a direction and not an impulse.
You don't randomly tell people to get loud during a hockey game. You give them reasons to be loud from start to end.
The ACC is a multi-purpose facility. It has equipment suitable for rock concerts. It has a sophisticated system of sound distribution.
So here's a question: Why not just "pump" some sound effects – cheering, clapping, whatever – through the speakers as needed (like on Monday night)?
And here's an addendum to this point: In addition to the crowd effects, why not broadcast the play-by-play feed? You know, let Joe Bowen's voice thunder inside the building.
I've noticed something at various bars across this city. When Bowen can be heard, people pay more attention to what they are watching. They are more engaged in the game.
Anyway, these are my deranged suggestions. And thanks for raising the issue yesterday in the comments.
The Leafs are 3-1 over the past four games. They are the youngest team in the NHL. They really do deserve a half-decent sixth skater when playing at home.
MAIN PHOTO: ANDREW WALLACE/TORONTO STAR