The Devils held auditions for the role of “SuperFan” last Sunday. Three of us showed up, which captures the problem and issue in a sentence or less. I found out about the event through Devils Fan Club officer Jen Talpins, with whom I used to share season tickets. Didn’t see it on Facebook, or Twitter, or in an email blast from the club. Not an auspicious start for fan-domonium.
Here was the setup: We reported to the Prudential Center on Sunday at noon, signed in and had mugshots taken after signing a release allowing use of our images, content, likenesses, and other potentially copyrighted items, in perpetuity. That’s as close as I’ll get to having any personal piece of the Rock. I brought along a resume listing relevant work experience: 22 years as an office Santa Claus, 6 years as Frosty the Snowman, voice-overs for commercials on WPRB-FM, three years of DJ experience, blogging, twittering and FaceBooking with a cast of tens, if not hundreds. It was intentionally equally doses of serious and humourous, because that’s the essence of being a fan. Begin Willie Stargell quote: It’s supposed to be fun. The man says “Play ball,” not “Work ball.” In the true snowman spirit, SuperFanDom is about fun.
|Cowbell, camera man and judges. Don’t try this at home.|
|The hot seat. At least we didn’t have to do stadium drills.|
Fun lasted 90 seconds as we were marched onto the Rock floor, nicely free of ice and painted logos, but scarily empty save for the judges’ table and the in-house camera man. Judges included a VP of marketing, the ever-popular Heather, and former Devils captain, HNA goalie and stand-in fan Bruce Driver. We each had a turn on the hot seat, lonely in front of 16,800 empty but nicely padded seats (no jokes about how the Devils feel some nights, that’s the problem we’re trying to solve). After a round of questions from each judge, we got 90 seconds of music as accompaniment for free-form cheers, attempts to rile up Bruce Driver, t-shirt tossing, and anything else we wanted to do. Captured above in mid-cheer is Cowbell 232 of HFBoards.com fame.
Questions spanned the entire range of supposed fan emotion: What does it mean to be the Devils SuperFan (aside from comfort with camel capitalization)? What do you think would be the hardest part of the job? Do you think the role is different in different parts of the arena? How would you deal with adverse (read: Ranger, Flyer and occasional Habs) fans? How will you make the transition from fan to employee (that is, you can’t watch the game, you have to watch the fans?)
With a bit of editing, post-traumatic tryout stress relief, and a solid helping of humble pie, here’s what I said:
The job of the SuperFan is to eat, sleep and breathe fire for the Devils 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 1/4 days a year. Before and after games, between games, during the off-season. Once fans are in the building, the in-game production staff does a good job of keeping them entertained. I think the number one problem requiring a super-anything is getting butts into seats. We have a spectacular arena, with good food, a championship caliber team, exciting young players (some of whom will get or require branding, visibility and fan bases) and the lower bowl is half empty most weeknights. I don’t think people want more copies of last season’s t-shirt guy, nor do they want to be told how to cheer. They want to have a memorable experience, and the Devils should want (a) for fans to come to a game for the first time and (b) to have such a spectacularly fun time that they want to come back, preferably more than once.
There’s clearly a difference between the upper and lower bowls. The fans who are regulars in Section 232 (like Cowbell) don’t need, or want, a SuperFan to come up. It’s a community, and you don’t invite yourself into someone else’s block party unless you’re a member of the block. Better to give them an outlet to amplify their energy and efforts (check out the boards; the Devils marketing staff puts its mouse finger there to get a pulse). Downstairs, you have corporate season ticket holders, one-timers, and honestly, a lot of empties. The fine line to walk is between being the “funny fat guy” that makes kids stand up and cheer with you and being the loud, annoying guy that sits behind you and jeers Gomez every time he touches the puck. I think fan volume is self-amplifying – the more fans there are, the less you need a SuperFan as a tubocharger, and the louder the building gets on its own power. Again, my goal for SuperFan would be to fill the lower bowl, which happens before the game, not during the game.
Driver asked a great question about being the public face of the Devils – which I think is entirely outside of the scope of the job. The Devils have the Devils Dancers (who were warming up in the lobby waiting for our auditions to end), NJ Devil (the only NHL mascot with a porn mustache), and the players. There’s no need to add another face or image to the team’s branding; if anything it’s distracting. Yet another reason why “the sweaty t-shirt guy” is a bad idea; what the Devils need is grass-roots support stemming from grass-roots involvement. I’d rather take the role of SuperFan to the bloggers, tweeters, meeters and greeters, and hold a pre-game TweetUp, or invite bloggers into a suite for a game, or hand out half-off coupons for future tickets to anyone who wears pink to the rink in October. Once you’re in the arena, and having fun, and picking your favorite player, it’s addictive.
Ten years ago, I took a six-year old boy to a game in October. While we were cheering for Vadim Sharifijanov (#8 at the time), we noticed a 24-year old player sporting #26 who seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and smiling every time he touched the puck. For the last decade, Patrik Elias has been a household name even as our household has moved around town. We haven’t missed a chance to cheer for him, in English or Czech, online or in person. That’s what I bring, and I salute the Devils for bringing real fans into their employee ranks. Supposedly we find out in the next few days, and my money is on Cowbell, although I think Section 232 will miss him if he leaves the neighborhood.