What Sport Has the Best Music?
While we can't go to games, let's think about everything except the sports themselves.
I haven’t been to a live sporting event siiiiince … *checks phone pictures … keeps scrolling back. Holy shit it’s been a while* Wow, it was Eagles - Cowboys in Dallas on Oct. 20, 2019. It was awful!
Anyway, because I haven’t been inside a stadium for a year and a half, I’m missing out on the experience. We all know gameday is much more than just Home vs. Away. It’s the whole experience. It’s the crowd. It’s the music being pumped through enormous stadium PA’s and yelling along with thousands of other people.
The music is part of the overall pageantry the same way military imagery is ingrained into it, too. (When I moved to Philly for school, I was hella confused by my first Phillies opening day fighter jet flyover burning over Broad St. while I walked to class). Each sport has a musical identity, tied in with the aggression or flow of the game, its traditions, aforementioned jingoism, etc.
And while there are some similarities between each sport’s musical identity, there are a ton of differences, too. But, which one is best?
I asked some friends.
One replied “hockey” immediately. Following it with an affirmative “It’s hockey.”
“None,” replied another. “It’s all the same CD. ‘Crazy Train,’ ‘More than a Feeling,’ one or two current pop hits.”
It’s a little difficult to create an objective scoring metric. I’m going to keep it non-scientific and use a few scoring metrics that I think can carry across all of them:
How amped up the fans get
How well it complements the actual game
My own personal opinion of said music
So, building off of that, let’s start with:
When I think of “hockey music,” I think of stuff that goes well with highlight reels of hard hits and slap shots, i.e. Nu Metal. Hockey games are one of the last bastions of relevance for bands like Seether outside of Flyover Country and superspreader motorcycle festivals. But, hockey has expanded beyond just badass music.
At least in Philly, you’re likely to hear something a bit more … cool? Relevant? They’re at least aware of the fact that you’ll see more Flyers jerseys at a Japandroids concert than at the Wells Fargo Center. And I’ve even heard a Menzingers song or two playing over the PA system.
But, with hockey, you also have this rich tradition of the organ music, which is sick. I always imagine it’s an old woman playing it. In every arena. When one retires another nearly identical woman steps up.
You have those must-have crowd pleasers for the normal folks (“High Hopes” by Panic! At the Disco) and then some for the IPA and flannel shirt crowd (PUP, IDLES, etc.). You have to get The Dudes pumped up, but you also have to appeal to more than their primal, violent urges. That’s what hockey is all about, baby. The thinking man’s barfight. A game for psychos populated by the most well adjusted and polite maniacs we can find (Canadians and Scandinavians).
Hockey has a ton of the old OrgCore punk, too. You’ll probably hear “Bro Hymn” at least once at a hockey game. There’s also a heaping spoonful of Celtic Rock. 50/50 odds of it being Flogging Molly or Dropkick Murphys. (God forbid you’re at a Bruins game. Then it’s 100 percent odds.)
Fan excitement: B-
Brendan’s opinion: B
On-deck music is one of my favorite ways to analyze a baseball player. Sure, you can look at their minor league stats, their batting averages, all that Moneyball nerd shit. But ask any of those baseball scouts that Billy Beane fired, and they’ll tell you that baseball scouting is about the intangibles. You just know. It says more than any OBP. So, I know a lot about a guy who goes to bat to Rebelution, like Rhys Hoskins with the Phillies. That’s weird, right? Grown man in 2021 going to bat to Rebelution? He’s one of my favorite players and I just can’t get past that.
You have tons of guys going to classic “stadium” songs like AC/DC. I respect that the most, honestly. That’s really how it should be. There’s an environmental aesthetic to upkeep, and that’s your duty, your obligation, as a player as much as it is to put the ball in play. So I respect the hell out of all these 22-year-old guys bumping “Back in Black” or “Panama” as a means of setting a tone for the crowd, even if it’s not what they listen to in their spare time.
Baseball players are generally super boring and media-trained, which is why guys like Bryce Harper or Jose Bautista can be the most shocking guys in the league by having the audacity to celebrate a little. Every player with Ed Sheeran as their on-deck music (there are multiple. I checked the entire league) is basically the kid with the completely disorganized iPod on the bus who “doesn’t really care about music.”
At least give us something fun like my main man Cole Tucker here.
Or Will Smith:
Baseball is such a slave to convention and extinguishing fun. I say that as someone who loves baseball more than the average American. On-deck music is one of, like, three opportunities for dudes to show some personality in the league. And yet, so many squander it.
Fan excitement: C-
Brendan’s opinion: C+
Football kind of sucks for music. For all of the stoppages in play, they just play a few minutes of a song. Usually some top 40 hit. If we’re being totally honest here, football is the worst sport to experience live compared to its TV product. It’s much harder to follow, and the sight lines aren’t always forgiving unless you spend top dollar.
The musical cornerstone of the NFL is the Super Bowl halftime show. And, unless you’re huge on the lukewarm, lowest-common-denominator acts they get for these shows, it’s not exactly the pinnacle of musical experience.
But that’s just the NFL. I’d be remiss to not mention college football.
College football rules because who doesn’t want to hear the hits of three years ago being played with brass instruments? And if you go to a school with a half decent program, you probably have a decent student section to work in tandem with the band. That’s just an American tradition on par with celebrating war (see jet flyovers above).
Sure, there are a few NFL teams with legitimate fight songs, but for the most part, fans “singing” in NFL stadiums amounts to “DEFENSE” or just going “OOOOOOOHHHHH” for extended periods of time. It’s like throat singing!
Fan excitement: B
Brendan’s opinion: D
With soccer, you automatically get two giant chunks of play for at least 45 minutes apiece. No stoppages with music. No TV timeouts. It would be uncouth to play something while a player is down injured, which is really the only break.
But, you have something that other sports just do not have, and that’s a performance coming from the stands. Teams with committed fanbases (i.e. teams outside of the U.S. barring Seattle, Portland and Atlanta) pack their seats and don’t stop singing from the first whistle to the last.
The last time I went to a Flyers game, there was a group of Argentinian people in Boca Juniors jerseys in the very top row of the WFC. They sang in Spanish the entire game, and accumulated more and more drunk Flyers fans to just kind of yell alongside them and they ended up on the jumbotron. It was awesome.
But while we’re talking about prefab music, though, most teams do have a song that plays during a goal. The Philly Union have that “Doop” song, Bayern Munich has the damn can-can (very German) and Tottenham Hotspur has fucking “Sandstorm” by Darude (they also play “Duel of Fates” from Star Wars Episode I before games, which sets quite a tone.”
The problem with hearing soccer fans sing songs is that they’re usually parodies of existing songs with players’ names thrown in like some British Weird Al (Ever So Unorthodox Alfred), and they have absolutely no rhythm. Multiple Premier League teams have songs based on “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus, and you have to listen to some bald guy named Bovril phlegm his way through it.
Fan excitement: A
Brendan’s opinion: C+
The NBA is similar to the NHL in a lot of ways. For one thing, they share arenas. They also use the classic organ for a lot of play, which I can appreciate, especially when it prompts rhythmic clapping from the crowd. Hopefully it’s the same old woman employed by the NHL team. That’s always good for fan interaction. But the NBA has one thing that really makes it stand apart from the NHL, and that’s letting songs play during the action. That’s cool. Other sports should use this. (The NHL does not because the organ player for the Red Wings in like 19 Dickety 2 played too loud when the other team had the puck.)
Baseball 100% would not do this because they’re so far up their own asses about unspoken rules to do something cool like play a song during active play. But, imagine a line drive to the wall in left field while three runs score, all set to the soundtrack of Velvet Revolver’s “Slither” (I’m not saying this is a perfect system. There’s still some out-of-touch guy manning the board). That would kick ass. So, when some half-court NBA action is set to pump-up organ or a Nas song, the whole experience goes up a few notches.
Fan excitement: C+
Brendan’s opinion: C+
So, what sport has the best music? My rankings:
So, there you have it. A totally non-scientific study to keep me occupied while I wait to go back to live sporting events.
Maybe we should just use the same CD across sports. There’s nothing wrong with Jock Jams Vol. 1.
I can blast my own music at home to try to tailor an experience for myself, but it’s just not the same.
But at least then I won’t be subjected to drunks singing “Sweet Caroline.”
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And tell your friends!
Today’s Snakes and Sparklers musical guest is Sun God.