This past season for the Wizards, we've seen a number of changes, from ownership with minority owner Ted Leonsis becoming majority owner this past June, to the court where our franchise player changed from Gilbert Arenas to John Wall within a year. We also have seen some notable changes regarding the in game experience since Ted has taken over, and I'll hit on some of the major acts and personalities we have and I'll also add some suggestions that we should consider for next season.
CRITIQUES OF CURRENT IN GAME FIGURES
1. PA Announcer: Ralph Wesley
Arguably the most obvious change to any team's in game experience is the voice of the PA Announcer when it changes. This past year, our PA Announcer was Ralph Wesley, who also holds the same position with our sister team, the Washington Mystics. I went to some Mystics games last year, including for about a quarter of a game during the 2010 Draft Day party when they hosted the Los Angeles Sparks, a game against the Seattle Storm, who would go on to become the 2010 WNBA Champions, and I also went to a playoff game against the Atlanta Dream after the Mystics earned the #1 seed for the East last year and had a record 22-12 campaign. For an 82 game pace, that record is equal to a 53 win season which I can only dream of at this time for the Wizards.
After hearing Wesley for these games, some of his trademark sayings were quite annoying or even irritating, at least when I first heard them. The most annoying one to me was when he literally yelled "One minute!!" for the one minute warning for each quarter (WNBA games have four 10 minute quarters with a one minute warning called as opposed to four 12 minute quarters with a two minute warning called in the NBA). A close second was announcing free throws whenever a Mystics player was at the line where Wesley would say, "Crystal Langhorne at the line, shooting..........................two (in a relaxed tone)." Announcing timeouts such as his trademark saying "Timeout on......the floor" also were noted by the DC Basketcases, a Mystics and Lady Terps hoops blog where the writers complained about Ralph not once, but twice and there were a number of Mystics fans who didn't like his announcing style, period, possibly because he was different and last year was his first season with the Mystics. (DC Basketcases is also the blog where Ted learned about the need to fix latches in the women's bathrooms at Verizon Center fyi.)
After the Mystics season ended, Ralph won a public tryout last September to become the new PA announcer for the Wizards where he replaced Kevin Heilbronner, who held the Wizards and Mystics PA spots for about a decade. I was a bit weary about Ralph as the Wizards PA announcer because of the Mystics games, and at the beginning of this past season, I was already annoyed, but I have noticed some changes in his announcing style throughout the course of his season as it went on. He isn't going out of his way to say things like "Jordan Crawford at the line shooting............two" instead saying it regularly (THANK GOD). I also like it that he notes who gets an assist after a Wizards basket, though it can be partly attributed to the fact that we have the Wall of Assists this year. Most of all despite the annoying sayings early on, I like the overall energy and enthusiasm he brings to the job every night, even last summer. Though some PA announcers, like Lawrence Tanter of the Los Angeles Lakers are more of the old-school, neutral types, having another vocal cheerleader can only help the crowd, especially when the going gets rough.
So for me, Ralph didn't give me a good impression initially, but he has grown on me throughout the course of the Wizards season, and he will be a great announcer for us going forward.
2. In Game Personalities - Autria Godfrey and Big Tigger
Autria has been the game hostess for the Wizards since the 2007-2008 season when she shared the role with Chris Styles who is a local DJ who can be heard on Sirius XM Radio and also at local night clubs. Since the 2008-2009 season, Autria has been the only host who runs around the Verizon Center mostly acting as a walking commercial to get people to certain booths, etc. She's a pretty face to look at and she's hotter than most of the Wizard Girls, but at the end of the day, she's not really pumping up the crowd which Styles did, so I wouldn't lose sleep if I didn't see her at games next year. I'm not saying that she's totally pointless, since she does look and act professional when on the job, but a game host should try to pump up the crowd when we need it, and Autria isn't doing that aside from encouraging little kids to draw a poster during the pre-game period. At a minimum, she should get more opportunities to pump up the crowd, even if she sounds idiotic doing it at first.
WPGC's morning man, Big Tigger has been our resident DJ since the 2007-2008 season, and since the 2008-2009 season when Chris Styles wasn't retained, Big Tigger has turned into more of a host where he has announced the Wizards' starting lineups and has helped pump up the crowd for the Dance Cam, the Chipotle Burrito Dash, the Fist Pump Cam and at the end of games when it's real close. He is pretty good at pumping up the crowd, and is a must keep for the in game experience for the immediate future. I don't mind him being the only full time host if Autria isn't back...
3. Wizard Girls
The Wizard Girls are a pretty visible group, and they're accessible for pictures and autographs before the game and during halftime. During the game however except for their customary dance routine during a timeout, they're next to the tunnels most of the time and they become invisible in terms of trying to pump up the crowd. Perhaps they should be cheering closer to the court to be more visible during the course of the game, like we see in college and high school games.
4. Capital Crew, featuring Terrance Briscoe, a/k/a Hype Guy
If we had a male dancer on the Dance Team, Hype Guy would be the one. He is probably our most vocal cheerleader on the team booing like crazy when the visiting team's players are at the free throw line and he does some cool dances throughout the game. The rest of the Capital Crew's members are even more invisible than the Wizard Girls when I'm at games since all they do is throw burritos and t shirts. Briscoe does that and then some. He is a must keep for next season and beyond. As for the rest of the Capital Crew, perhaps they need to jump up and down some more like Hype Guy.
5. G Man and G Wiz
They're fine as our mascots. I would love to see them back, but in a fresh shade of red this fall with some special video on the jumbotron changing them from blue to red as they get introduced for the first time in the 2011-2012 season.
SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR NEXT YEAR'S IN GAME EXPERIENCE
1. Display the lyrics and encourage the yelling of RED and OH during the National Anthem.
The Washington Capitals have the lyrics displayed for the National Anthem when it is sung. This video shows that, though the lyrics shown along the sides of the arena is faint. The first thing regarding the National Anthem is that I'd like to see at Wizards games is to display the lyrics when it is being sung.
As you listen to the National Anthem in the Caps video, note that the Phone Booth yells "RED!!" during the phrase, "And the rockets' red glare", and the whole crowd also yells the Baltimore Orioles' traditional "OH!!!" during the phrase "Oh say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave." Though some DC area fans think it should be reserved just for Orioles games, having a whole crowd yell OH pumps everyone up and is a sign of encouragement for the singer, and therefore we should have EVERY Wizards fan yelling it during the National Anthem as well. With no encouragement to do it right now, it sounds silly when some yell OH and most don't, and for this year, what's the point about yelling red when it's not a Wizards' color? To encourage the yelling of "RED!!" and "OH!!!", the jumbotron should have the words RED and OH capitalized as the singer is about to recite those words. It should catch on easily.
2. Make the Playlist that Big Tigger plays public and put it online.
If some fans hear a song that they like but don't know the name of the artist or the song title, it would be nice to know what the title of the song is. The New York Knicks do this for every game. As a season ticket holder, I'm also hearing the same songs in the same order almost every game during warm ups. I think the songs need to change up a little as well.
3. Add more music variety to the playlists during warmups, timeouts, etc.
#90 of Ted's list explicitly states "More music variety". I haven't really heard any changes yet. The Wizards music selections tend to be mostly rap, R&B, and some tween pop songs, while the Capitals music selections tend to be mostly hard rock and heavy metal songs, and it's because the demographics of NBA and NHL audiences are different, and also because NBA music tends to revolve around rap and NHL music revolves around rock music, just listen to the music in the NBA Live video games vs. the NHL video games on EA Sports. I'd love to see the Wizards enter the court to a heavy metal song and the Caps take the ice with a rap song next year or something. It isn't a crime to do this.
4. The Wizards should encourage more interactive fan cheers during games to give us a very vocal home court advantage.
I see that we started something new this year to have the fans stand up until a Wizards player scores a bucket. It's not really new, since a number of colleges have this tradition, but at least in the DC pro sports scene, the Mystics started doing this in 2009. I like this, since it's one of those things that can make the Verizon Center more of a college like atmosphere in terms of how raucous the crowd can be. Hopefully we won't have to wait for our first basket until after Flip calls a timeout like we saw in the Oklahoma City game this past March.
In terms of fan cheers, we don't really have any of that aside from G-Man banging the Defense Drum in the fourth quarter. Again, taking a page out of the Capitals, two season ticket holders lead the Phone Booth in "Let's Go Caps" chants almost every game. The most famous one is William Stilwell, a/k/a "GOAT" who sits in Section 105 usually yelling "Let's Go Caps" right before opening face off or during play stoppages which the crowd follows and yells back. In this video you can't hear GOAT that clearly since he has no mic, but it's loud enough for the Verizon Center to know he's yelling and they yell back. The other fan, Sam Wolk, a/k/a "The Horn Guy" who sits in Section 415 toots his vuvuzela/plastic horn three times which the fans then yell back "Let's Go Caps". Here's a video of him in action.
In ice hockey while there's a lot of motion going on in the game like basketball, the puck is turned over a lot more easily since it's harder to control than a basketball, and it's a lot harder to score goals than it is in basketball. Given this, it's easier for GOAT and the Horn Guy to lead the crowd in long Let's Go Caps chants. Also in NHL games unlike NBA games music isn't being played constantly, so these chants are easier to do by default. However despite these differences between the NHL and the NBA in game experience, I do think that some form of this can still happen at Wizards games, though we're probably going to have the Capital Crew, especially Hype Guy and some other like minded folks to do these kinds of chants. I don't think foghorns and vuvuzelas are allowed at NBA games so unfortunately, Horn Guy can't really help here but it's still something we could look into. One vuvuzela blower leading the troops is fine, but 20,000 of them will be a nuisance.
5. The Wizards should have post game interviews for the whole audience to hear and/or a post game player address to the audience for every home game.
This is something new added this year, and it adds some incentive to keep the fans in their seats after the game is over. The Capitals and all hockey teams have the three stars announced after the game, and most fans stay in their seats after a win, and we have done that this year with home wins when Autria would interview one of the players about the win and she almost always asks a question about how the fans helped the team.
The Mystics do something slightly different where a player addresses the crowd after every game, win or lose, where she would thank the crowd for coming, and to rally the fans in regards to a future game. This keeps more fans in their seats after the end of the game, but more importantly, it lets them hear a player speak directly to the fans and hear that appreciation first hand. In the current Wizards post game interview with Autria however, the player doesn't really address the crowd directly since he's talking to her, not to us.
I'm kind of torn between which of these is the better post game ritual to do, but I think we should have that post game interview or player address for every game. It may not seem like very much, but it can't hurt either.
6. Don't overdo the organ music because it can be tacky.
Overall, this adds a bit of a hockey or baseball feel to the game. In fact, our organist, Bruce Anderson does the same for the Caps and has done so for the last 10 years. I like it most of the time. The part that I don't like much about the electronic organ is playing the instrumentals for pop hits like Missy Elliot's "Get Your Freak On", Usher's "DJ Got Us Falling In Love Again", and Katy Perry's "Firework." Organ music is cool, but it's also okay to play some of the pop songs in their original format too when the PA Announcer notifies the fans about personal fouls by the players, etc.
7. Incorporate the Crowd Wave Technology more often and have it done at least once a game, every game.
This technology was given publicity before the season and it was used once a game for maybe a third of the games this season, at most. Unless it requires some major maintenance after every use, I think it should be used every game in some way.
Aside from encouraging the team to lower the high food prices at the concession stand and the high souvenir prices at the team store, these are my critiques and suggestions on what we could do to improve the in game experience at Verizon Center next season for the Wizards. A poll for the Wizards' current in game experience is below. What are your critiques on the current in game figures and your suggestions on what we can do to improve things for next season?