Garrett James Photography

Symphonic conductors directing the Express train


(This article was originally published on Jul. 24, 2020.)

The average fan at a BCHL hockey game may take a lot for granted when entering the arena. They are there to see two teams battle it out on the ice with the goal of victory and two points in the standings. What they may overlook is the efforts of the game night team working like a well-oiled machine to enhance the on-ice product and generate a positive fan experience. Along with success on the ice, this ultimately leads to fans returning to the arena and thus more wins for everyone.

Success in game night relies heavily on the shoulders of many dedicated volunteers and individuals working as a cohesive unit. There are four main positions in game operations that play a vital role in creating favorable results and a well-executed game presentation off the ice, in addition to the one on the ice created by the players.

The disc jockey

From the moment the doors open to the music playing as happy fans exit the arena, the game night DJ  sets the mood and tone of the audience with great music selection and audio pieces for all ages.

It’s the loud, energizing goal song after the home team scores or the music that is often deemed too loud during player warmups. It’s that epic, historic organ piece before a key defensive zone draw and a crowd pumping, energy intensifying power play anthem. It’s electrifying music to get fans on their feet and cheering in a tight game, and it’s all part of a great game night vibe.

There is more to being a game night DJ than sitting in the booth, picking songs, and hitting play. Like any profession, the role of DJ is one that is ever-evolving, from game to game, period to period, shift to shift even. It is up to the DJ to assess the crowd and play music appropriate to their observation of what’s happening in the stands. Is it an older crowd at a midweek game? Is it Saturday night and there are a ton of families out? Is Halloween or Christmas around the corner?

These are all questions a DJ should be asking themselves while determining what should be played and when. In not-so-happy home games where the visitors are dominating, many fans feel the music is the only thing that is good, and in those cases, the last line of defense is in the hands of the DJ.

The DJ has several tools to help them interpret just what it is that they should be playing. Their eyes are obviously a key piece to the puzzle but by no means the only option open to them. Suggestions from the game day coordinator, team staff, and the players are always welcome. I often pay attention with my ears at other sporting events, scouring the internet for that next big tune or sourcing out requests prior to the game on social media or with a request sheet in the arena.

The public address announcer

While the DJ is busy looking after the audio needs of those in attendance, the PA announcer contributes equally to a successful game night experience. Working hand in hand with the DJ, the announcer is the undeniable director of information during a game.

Be it the call on all in-game results on the ice, statistics,  50/50 ticket sales, sponsor reads, intermission activities, stars of the game, and the ever-popular next game, the announcer is the most reliable source of data during the game.

In several arenas, the announcer and DJ often sit side by side, or else usually the DJ up top in a booth and the announcer at ice level in the timekeeper’s box. For numerous organizations and clubs, the DJ and announcer are roles held by the same person.

Regardless of where each person sits or if it is a solo or dual operation the DJ and announcer must have dynamic execution for the game night presentation to be any kind of success. A great example of this duo in motion is when the announcer promotes a contest and the DJ tags the announcement with a thematic audio piece after. Utilizing a scenario from the past, the announcer reads out the details of an upcoming Vegas draw, and the DJ tags the ad with “Viva Las Vegas” by ZZ Top once the read is complete.

Thoughts from an experienced PA announcer

Charlie Black is the public address announcer for the Surrey Eagles and Coquitlam Express. He stresses the announcer plays an integral role in successful game night execution.

Any PA announcer worth their salt needs to be able to communicate a lot of different information in an engaging way. From reminding fans to renew their season tickets, promoting sponsors, announcing complicated penalties after a line brawl, and so much more, all of these have to be done with distinct energy that cuts through the din of the game,” explains Black.

“Not all events are created equal, and it’s certainly more fun to announce your own team’s goal than it is to read off a blurb about ‘So-and-so, a proud supporter of your hometown team.’ for the billionth time, but every possible event that can be announced needs energy behind it. Be clear, be concise, be energized.”

Another crucial quality is professionalism. It can be tough to be neutral, especially when the PA announcer is often responsible for harnessing the energy of the crowd. However, there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to drive that fan engagement.

The PA announcer is not meant to offer their opinion or tell a crowd how to feel, but there is wiggle room where you can use your energy to heighten a moment and build up your crowd. Leave the opinions to the broadcasters.

The PA announcer is part of home-ice advantage and instrumental in connecting fans of all backgrounds to the game they are watching.

I love being able to entertain crowds. No one comes to games just to hear the PA announcer (except for my dad), but being a cursory part of the fan experience is exhilarating,” continued Black. “To me, every game at every level can and should sound like an NHL game.

“I am thrilled to provide that professional sheen to the Surrey Eagles game day experience, through my duties as PA announcer, in-game DJ, singer of the national anthems, and so on. There’s nothing quite like building traditions and rituals with players and fans,” said Black.

“Hearing the crowd ‘woo’ after I announce goals is a treat every time it happens. Bringing the Timbits teams onto the ice during intermission mini-games brings a huge grin to my face every time. Seeing our players get fired up from hearing their goals and assists being celebrated is a feeling like none other.”

Black adds, “Hockey games are a way to build and celebrate our community, and I cherish being a part of it. I’m a lucky man to be able to do what I do.”

The broadcaster

Up until about 15 years ago, this position didn’t really exist in the BCHL for every team. With the dawn of improvements in technology and the growth of online media outlets like HockeyTV, the game is now available to fans in the comfort of their own homes as well as the arena.

With these games being of the pay per view variety, teams are faced with the challenge of presenting a great broadcast experience and best bang for your buck approach. It is the broadcaster who calls the game from the arena and relays all game information to the fans at home much like the announcer does in the arena.

Of course, the game cannot be broadcast to homes without the aid of a well trained, experienced camera operator. Much like the dynamic announcer/DJ duo, the camera operator/broadcaster pairing is just as important to parents and people watching from afar, as the former is to the fans in the arena.

Longtime Express broadcaster Eddie Gregory has a number of perspectives for a successful game broadcast.

Preparation is always important. Spend a few hours if possible before the game reviewing boxscores and stats for trends. Anyone can show up and do a game with no prep,” said Gregory. “I’ve done it many times when my schedule was tight. But I always feel much better when I’ve spent a good amount of time doing prep.”

Gregory adds that energy and emotions matter. “The listener or viewer has to have a feeling that you care about the game and it matters to you. Get that and the energy will come naturally.”

“The game is always the star, not the broadcaster. The parents are tuning in to see how their son is playing, not to listen to you. If you do a good job, the parents will like what you do. Then they will find a way to relay their appreciation for your work. And to me, that’s the most satisfying.”

The 2011 BCHL broadcaster of the year says it’s best to work to enhance a fan’s experience. “Try to find a way to interact with your audience, whether its email or social media during the games.”

When things have returned to normal and we are able to attend games and cheer on our beloved home teams, please say hello to some of these off-ice stars who are working just as hard as the players on the ice to entertain you and give you a reason to return to the rink.