One of the great moments of truth in the seminal mockumentary film “Spinal Tap” includes a guitar amplifier’s volume knob. In a fake interview a guitarist is asked why his volume knob has the number 11 on it, when amplifiers usually only have increments for numbers 1-10. “This one goes to eleven,” is the response. “It’s one louder.”
That could be the response of most pro hockey team game operations folks, too. Why is it so loud in the arena during the games? Perhaps because their amplifiers go to 11.
I thought the volume level of the audio system at the Tucson Arena for Roadrunners hockey games was actually well controlled, at least from my perch in the press box broadcast booth. Some pro arenas can be deafening, and I was actually surprised and happy that the Roadrunners’ game media presentations had a good balance to them.
But fans have started writing to me with specific complaints about the arena loudness.
Hockey fan Jerry Humphrey wrote to the team, “The arena is great … It was fun and we want to attend more games, but for one problem. The music was very, very loud. So loud you could not talk to the person next to you.”
That sentiment was followed by another fan’s lament. “We left due to the blaring, constant and pulsating music that blasted its way throughout the arena before and after the warmup, during every stoppage of play and between periods,” Gilbert Shapiro wrote in an e-mail addressed to various Roadrunners team personnel.
I can sympathize with these fans. The constant high noise levels at pro hockey arenas are an inescapable part of the game experience everywhere.
Almost every pro hockey arena seems to employ the same carbon-copy approach: if the puck is not in play then there will not be a moment of silence. Multiple advertising and promotional spots will run constantly.
The PA will blast mostly unintelligible promotions. Lights, scoreboard animations, and music will spin frantically.
The beautiful game of hockey, and its supreme athletes, seemingly aren’t enough on their own anymore to draw and keep a crowd — at least that is what sports marketing consulting firms are paid to say.
Organ music was the more pleasant noise of choice for decades at hockey games, a softer way to lead the fans in chants and entertain between periods. The NHL Blackhawks still use a smattering of the original famous Chicago Stadium organ in its game presentations, leading fans in the traditional “Let’s-Go-Black-Hawks” chant that has echoed there for so many decades.
I know, I know, my admiration for retro hockey tradition surely will strike millennials as another “get off my lawn” old-timer’s complaint. Disgruntled fans who wrote me even addressed that idea, mentioning that they are not old folks who hate rock and roll. The PA is just too darn loud for them.
OK, so why does the audio level seem to be so painful for some, but also normal for many others at the Tucson Arena? The answer appears to be in the unique physical layout of the loudspeakers that carry the audio to the crowd. They are several rows of vertical speakers, hanging near the center of the building, and curving down and pointing out.
I’ve walked through the arena at Roadrunners games (and at UA hockey games at the TCC, too), and have found loud “hot spots” – rows of seats where the speakers are at the exact distance and angle to be incredibly loud in comparison to the surrounding sections.
Why does it sound OK to me in the press box? Because the speaker columns don’t point there directly at all.
Roadrunners president Bob Hoffman assures me they are happy to find new seats for ticket holders if the patrons believe their first location is too loud for them. Jerry and Gilbert, give the team another try. I am convinced they really do want to make fans happy, especially in this crucial first season.
And then enjoy the action when the puck drops. That should be the real reason we’re all there anyway.