[Author's Note: Let me preface this post with a disclaimer: this is constructive criticism. I could write a much longer post on all of the things I love most about attending Dallas Stars games at the American Airlines Center, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. I also don't know if it's even possible that some of these changes can be made, so make this more of a....wish list. I believe that there is nothing greater than watching hockey live at the AAC and even without improvements, it's already one hell of an experience. One can still hope, however.]
Last year I attended my first Dallas Stars home game since 2006, sitting in section 314 for back-to-back games over a single weekend. After watching first-hand the Stars play away games in Boston, New York, Long Island, New Jersey, Nashville and Montreal, I can't express how great it was to finally be back amongst fellow Stars fans to cheer on my favorite team with. Last year was also a reminder of just how great a sports venue the American Airlines Center really was, a state-of-the-art spectacle that is one of the very best in the NHL.
I was also thrown off by just how boring the entire game presentation felt. After attending games along the East coast, this was a jarring dose of reality as I witnessed what could only be described as a cold, impersonal atmosphere at the home arena of my Dallas Stars.
This wasn't just the crowd; I know how the AAC can get rocking when the crowd puts it's collective mind to it. This was the whole package, and it was reinforced when I attended Saturday night's game against the St. Louis Blues. I knew ahead of time the crowd would be light; non-marquee matchup, college football, Rangers game, etc. Yet after attending games over the summer in Philadelphia and Chicago, it was painfully obvious that the game presentation at the AAC falls well short of what great hockey is all about.
After the jump, I list what I believe should change to improve the overall atmosphere at the American Airlines Center during Dallas Stars. Some of this criticisms might seem harsh, but it's nothing but pure honestly. I love the AAC and I love the Stars and I want nothing but the best...
When I was thinking about what should be done to improve things at the AAC, I wanted to think of ways to improve that actual atmosphere that is generated during a game. Of course, what happens on the ice is the key to the way the fans react, but there's also something to say about the game presentation and how that affects the overall demeanor and attitude of the fans during the game.
I know that the Stars are promoting games as a family-friendly, kid-friendly venue to see games and I am all for that. I don't want the AAC to turn into a Philly crowd. Yet there's no doubt that the atmosphere currently feels tame, that the fans are waiting for a reason to cheer instead of feeling the need to cheer and give the team something to play for. This all changes in the playoffs, of course, but we're talking about the overall atmosphere for 41 home games each season.
The die hard fan will be there every game, no matter what. Yet the casual fan isn't going to return because they had a great snack at the concession stands or because the architecture of the AAC is so neat; the fans return because the AAC is an incredible atmosphere for watching hockey.
With that in mind, here is what I feel should be done:
Celebrate The Tradition Of The Dallas Stars - The Stars have been in Dallas now since 1993 and while it's taken time, there is no doubt that this franchise has now built a tradition of great hockey in this city during a span of nearly 18 years. Walking around the AAC or watching the presentations during the game, you'd never know that the Stars won a Stanley Cup in 1999, two Presidents' Trophies, two Conference championships, or have won the division seven times. How about great players like Derian Hatcher, Richard Matvichuk, Guy Carbonneau, Mike Keane, Bill Guerin, Craig Ludwig, Shane Churla, Jamie Langenbrunner, Darryl Sydor, Dave Reid, Eddie Belfour, Andy Moog, Neal Broten, Paul Cavallini, Benoit Hogue and Stu Barnes. All a vital part of this history of what made the Stars so great, yet nowhere is this visible to the casual fan.
I'm not expecting a mural of Todd Harvey to be put up at the AAC, but something as simple as a video package that celebrates those that came before would be incredible. The Dallas Stars have a proud tradition, one that this team is trying to build upon with a new start this season. The Stars are preaching a "team" approach this year -- and that's exactly what made the Stars so great over a decade ago.
I understand that the Stars are trying to move on after the departure of Mike Modano and Marty Turco, but that doesn't mean the team should ignore the history of this franchise. I guarantee you that the majority of the fans at the game remember those great times of yesteryear and something to celebrate that greatness would do wonders for getting the crowd amped up. I know that if I stood in front of my seat, and a highlight reel of the Stars in their old green, black and white jerseys was shown -- there'd be tears in my eyes.
The Stars are setting off in a new direction on a brand new journey; that doesn't mean we should forget where we've been.
No More Ice Girl Cheerleaders -- I understand the thought process behind this, I do. The Dallas Cowboys have cheerleaders, they're great eye candy and they've helped promote the Dallas Cowboys brand over the years. Yet football has a very long tradition of cheerleaders on the sidelines -- cheerleaders at a hockey game just feels wrong. It's cheap and it distracts from what is happening on the ice. When the Stars score a goal, I don't need a shot of eight cheeleaders doing a dance on the "stage".
They feel as if they serve zero purpose except for eye candy and that's just not something I feel belongs at a hockey game. We're talking about measures to change the actual culture and atmosphere at a hockey game, and cheerleaders are just not anything that helps build upon that. The calendars, the meet and greets -- once again, I understand the thought process behind it but I wonder if the revenue this is earning the team is even worth the feeling of cheapness and exploitation I get when I see those cheerleaders at games.
The actual ice girls -- once again, not exactly needed but not exactly hurting anything either. It's those dancing cheerleaders that feel so grossly out of place.
Play Better Music -- This is hockey. This is fast skating, hard hitting, blood on the ice, big goals hockey. This isn't Nickelback, or Lady Gaga, or Black Eyed Peas -- this is hockey. This is hard rocking, fist pounding stuff.
Once again, not expecting speed metal every time there's a puck stoppage. Yet the music that is played has a direct effect on the atmosphere of the crowd -- how can anyone expect the crowd to get pumped up and into a hockey game if "Bad Romance" starts playing during a television timeout? I understand the appeal of wanting to appear "cool" and "with it", but I can tell you first hand that the best atmospheres in the NHL aren't having Rihanna pumped through the speakers in the third period of a close hockey game.
It's A Hockey Game: Focus On Hockey -- This comes from my days of watching games at Reunion Arena. I remember my favorite part of the game came when they would show highlights of big hits, big goals and great plays from not only the rest of the NHL, but past Stars games as well. The crowd would get into it and there would be an excited air about the building as play started again.
I can't remember the last time I saw such a video highlight package shown at a Stars game. There's the "Play of the Game", but that's about it. No big hits from around the NHL, no highlights from other games, no big goal packages. Instead, it's promotion after promotion after promotion; all presentations that have the absolute opposite effect of what would be achieved by actually showing hockey on the big screen.
Once again, I don't know the legalites of all this. Perhaps the rules changed and the Stars can't show highlights from around the NHL. Yet I know that when I'm at games in Philadelphia, Boston or even Nashville -- those video presentations that show big hits from games past work wonders on those crowds. There's also a noticeable lack of film references and they've been using the same three over and over and over again; I can't express how a well-timed movie clip during a game can really get the crowd going.
No More Minor League Presentations -- What do I mean by this? I'm referring to the kiss cams, the "hair cams", the endless promotions, the "Let's Make Noise", the completely random "charge" call that never seems to come at the right time. All of these are what I expect when going to see an AHL game where there's 8,000 fans (if they're lucky), a third of which are likely under the age of 10. It helps promote the "family" atmosphere and it helps generate ad revenue for a sport and a team that working with far less income that their NHL older brothers.
It's the puck tosses, the field goal kicks, the minature dachshund races -- of that you expect at a minor league game and it's all fine in that atmosphere and that game environment. At an NHL game it just feels cheap and it does wonders to immediately kill any momentum that crowd and the team had been generating.
I'm not calling for there to be a stop to all in-game promotions; this happens at every game around every major sports league. For some reason, it seems that the Stars just have way, way more than other NHL teams and it's a distraction from what is happening on the ice. There is a happy medium to be found between the cheap presentations, the promotions and the actual crowd-inspiring video clip that helps to improve the atmosphere during games.
There's certainly more that could be said or improved upon, but I don't want to write an entire post that destroys what the Stars are trying to accomplish at home games. Yet I feel with some well-thought and calculated improvements, the actual game atmosphere at the AAC would go from feeling detached and clinical to visceral and exciting.
I'm sure the first response would be that the Stars winning and playing exciting hockey would help more than any of the above would. Yet I'm not talking about the cheering or the crowd's reactions to the game; I'm talking about the atmosphere during a Stars game that is created as soon as the fans start to walk into the AAC. While it's still very early in the season and a playoff run would certainly generate buzz going into the game, you have to wonder if more fans would come back more often if the AAC didn't have such a tame "default" atmosphere about games.
I also understand that it's a fine line to walk for the Stars. They don't have the marketing funds right now to really sell the team across the metroplex and they're wanting to cater to the "family" aspect, creating a safe and tame atmosphere that parents feel is just right for their young children. This is a result of the lack of any sort of substantial hockey in two seasons and a team that has been woefully disappointing since the playoffs in 2008. While we all know that a winning team will put the fans in the seats eventually, they want to do what they can to cater to the fans that are there.
What I'm asking is for a slight shift in the overall philosophy in the game presentation, that makes the fans that are there at the game become instantly engrossed in what is about to transpire. Feel no shame in reliving the glory days of the past, of celebrating the players that we loved over a decade ago. Forget about the flash and the glitz of cheerleaders; that just further promotes the detachment fans are going through from the actual game on the ice.
The American Airlines Center is one hell of a venue to watch a hockey game. There isn't a bad seat in the arena, the food is reasonably priced (comparable to other major sports venues), the food is actually ok, the facilites are top-notch and the arena is one of the nicest I've even seen a sports game played at. Yet it also seems that we've forgotten the reason we're there -- watching the Dallas Stars play hockey.
On Saturday night, after an exciting 3-2 shootout win over the Blues, 12,000 fans left the AAC with one big collective smile on their faces. As we all walked across Victory Ave., a chant arose of "Let's Go Stars" across the parking lot. The fans are hungry for exciting hockey and the team is doing their part to make sure that happens. Yet if some slight changes are made, we wouldn't have to rely upon the team alone to bring back the fans game after game.
Let's lay it on you, the fan. For those that attend games regularly, what are your thoughts on the game presentation at the AAC?
I also ask that you keep it constructive and civil. If you have a complaint, explain how you feel it could be changed or improved upon.