Originally Published on Giga Punch- 04/02/2012: http://www.gigapunch.com/2012/04/02/fan-perspective-my-home-team-in-my-new-hometown/
Posted by Jimmy Dolan on April 2, 2012 in Sports
With Sunday night’s victory in Phoenix, The St. Louis Blues finished off a seven-game road trip at the top of the Western Conference and the NHL, despite having only a 3-4-2 record during the trip. Last week The Blues paid Southern California a three-day visit facing The Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday and then headed up the freeway to face The Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. As a lifelong Blues fan, I’ve been to more games at the Scottrade (Kiel/Savvis) Center than I could possibly remember, but since moving to Long Beach, California last year, I’ve had to make do seeing my home team at an unfamiliar venue in my new hometown.
For many sports fans, this practice is not uncommon. Cardinals and Cubs fans regularly make the five hour drive to see their team take the “away” slot, and fans of every sport in the Northeast have a proximity advantage to their rivals, making it easy to be a visitor. So for some people sitting down in the other guy’s house is nothing new, but not everyone gets to watch their boys on the road. Of course, not everyone wants to.
Attending a sporting event out of town can be an amazing experience if you live in a market without sports. I used to travel two or three times a year from St. Louis to Chicago to see the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park because we didn’t have an MLS franchise. Football fans from Wyoming often end up following the Broncos. But even in these situations, fans usually end up rooting for the home team. Seeing “your” team in a visitor’s arena is quite a different experience.
This past week marked the third and fourth times I’ve seen the Blues play in visiting stadiums: Last season I caught the Blues at Kings game in March, and then earlier this season when the Blues came to Anaheim for their first SoCal trip. Last week, I got to see the Blues play both teams back-to-back. Both the Honda Center in Anaheim and the Staples center in LA provide different experiences from each other. The Honda Center sits next to a major freeway, across from which sits Angel Stadium. It’s surrounded by parking lots and little else. The Staples Center, on the other hand, is nestled in the Southern area of downtown LA, sitting in the shadows of towering skyscrapers, and is connected to The Nokia Theater and adjacent to LA Live, an entertainment-focused public space that is a destination in itself. While Honda definitely has more of a suburban setting, Staples is “big city” all the way.
The first noticeable thing about the game in Anaheim was the attendance. Even at the end of the first period, empty seats, and nearly empty sections stood out all over the stadium. There were also a surprising number of Blues jerseys sitting all around me and several more were instantly noticeable in any given section. The Ducks seemed to put less of an emphasis on fan experience compared to St. Louis. Sure, the commercial breaks were filled in-stadium with gimmicks like the kiss cam and random fans competing in some goofy game on the ice, but the energy level was noticeably low, the crowd wasn’t as loud as they could be, and mascot appearances were scarce.
The following night in LA brought a technically sold out game, in an environment that puts entertainment first. The pregame video was accompanied by lasers and the second intermission included a live performance on a rooftop deck. The place was loud and on its feet from the first puck drop to the final horn. Maybe it’s because the Kings have a better chance of succeeding in their struggle to make the playoffs, but the crowd just seemed more alive than in Anaheim. Add to this the overtime period and shootout that decided the game, and conditions were right for an exciting game, no matter who’s side you were on. There were a few Blues fans in attendance, more than the last time I was at the Staples Center, but far fewer than in Anaheim. At the Ducks game “Let’s go Blues!” chants could be heard from across the Honda Center, but what came from the PA system never really pumped up those around me. At least the crowd energy in LA felt like a professional sporting event.
As an away fan, you start to notice minor differences about the venue you’re in and the one you’re used to, even if you’ve never noticed them before at home. For instance, the horn that sounds after a Ducks’ goal is a much lower sound than the one used in St. Louis, but doesn’t seem to be as loud. At a Kings game, there’s entirely too much focus on the “ice girls” who clean the snow during commercial breaks, where The Blues have kids from local little leagues volunteer to do the same job. And the emcee who runs the trivia games between plays seems a lot goofier and out of place than that sweet, lovable girl in St. Louis.
Though I was accompanied by Blues fans both nights, the difference between seeing my team in St. Louis and seeing them halfway across the country is vast. The most heart-pounding moment at a home game when the puck crosses the red line and the horn rumbles every hair on your body. In Southern California, there was no amazing bass blast when the Blues scored. In fact, there was little outside of my fellow fans cheering alongside me and sending air-fives across the section. I never really noticed this absence in the Scottrade Center when visiting teams scored because I wasn’t listening for it, but when the visiting team is your team, the volume level is immediately evident. At the Kings game, I felt bombarded by the cheering around me, which made the silence that followed a Blues’ goal even more noticeable. This is probably the most glaring difference when seeing your team in another city. When they score, nothing happens. But back at home, a goal brings the stadium to its feet. The guy next to you starts a chant that spreads throughout the stadium. There’s team colors everywhere you look. Your team’s logo is plastered on everything from the wall to your beer cup. There’s local traditions being practiced, like St. Louis’ towel guy count-off, Charles singing “When the Blues Go Marching In,” and the triple honk in the parking lot. And your cheers don’t sound like they are solitary and sent down an empty tunnel, as it might when your team is the visitor, but rather are part of a chorus of thousands. In other words, there’s a sense of camaraderie and team spirit that permeates every thought and feeling in the home team’s arena that can never be truly recreated in another town. Having Blues fans seated next to me and nearby in the same section definitely helps to ease the uncomfortable feeling of being surrounded by opposing fans, but will never be a substitute for the hometown experience.