December 20, 2014

Stagnation Leads To Apathy

Arkansas Cheerleaders (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

This is the first of a three-part series on the atmosphere of Razorback basketball games at Bud Walton Arena.

After two weeks of turmoil that ended with the promising hire of new coach John Pelphrey, it is high time we moved on to the next pressing matter for Razorback Basketball:  the malaise that is the atmosphere at Bud Walton Arena.

For the last 13 years, we have billed Bud Walton Arena as the “Basketball Palace of Mid-America.”  But over the last several seasons, the stagnation of the fan experience at games has, in my view, been a large part of the reason for the drop-off in attendance that has occurred.  Having an exciting team to come watch these days is only part of the equation.  Fans — especially students — crave a high-energy venue.

What a trip to BWA has evolved into is an antiseptic performance by the band and spirit squads, intertwined into a series of advertisements and public address announcements.  The scripted nature of the cheers and music without any sense of timing while the game is going on has just become pure comedy.  For example, no longer is the “William Tell Overture” saved for an important point in the game.  No…we can ‘only play that song at the 16-minute timeout of the second half.’

How did it get to this point?  It appears to some that the ring leaders of the circus — Band Director Tim Gunter, Spirit Group Coordinator Jean Nail, Marketing Director Matt Shanklin and Associate AD Bill Gray — have a complete lack of imagination and possess an unwillingness to change.  These two traits have allowed our basketball experience to fall behind the times.  And while these four should be applauded for their dedication to the program, their refusal to let the BWA experience evolve into the 21st Century has become ‘part of the problem.’

A few weeks ago, when our fans and administration finally realized that Arkansas Basketball had slipped and was no longer a top 10 program that could attract a ‘big name’ coach, writer Scott Cain asked former Razorback player and current ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes: ‘How’d this happen?’

“As beautiful and as great a facility as Bud Walton is, it’s a little outdated on game day because the students are not situated where they can impact that game,” Dykes said. “The music, how they go about everything from the pregame to the timeouts, a lot of those schools right now are doing something a little bit different.

[…] “Michigan State, North Carolina, places like that, in timeouts they’re piping in music, blasting and blaring like NBA games and the place is going nuts,” Dykes said.  “Small things like that can make a major impact on those home courts.”

Dykes was kind when he referred to the Nail-Gunter experience as “a little outdated.”  As many college basketball venues as Dykes visits during the season, his opinions should carry a lot of weight.

Something’s got to give here…if for no other reason than to aid in recruiting.  You must always be mindful of what sells your program to an 18-year-old.  And I don’t think we’re getting that done by playing the 1962 smash hit, “Hey, Baby” by Bruce Channel.  Keeping the same course is doing our new coach and staff a disservice — putting them at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to recruiting.

In the next segment on Thursday, we’ll take a look at what other college and NBA teams are doing before and during games to make their venues special.

  • Beckfan

    Great post. This is exactly what Razorbloggers should be here for. I totally agree with you. When BWA opened, it was electric (except when the power went out during the SW Missouri State bloodletting!) I think with coach Pelphrey coming on board, it presents us with a great opportunity to revitalize the entire experience of Razorback Basketball.

    I look forward to Thursday’s post of what other places are doing, then we must ACT. Talking about it won’t get it done. This is a place where we can work together to make our program better. Maybe we need to pull out the crystal bowl of energy brought over from Barnhill again :)

    GO HOGS

  • HJHog

    Right on, Sunshine!

    It is SO scripted these days. I cannot stand it any more!!! My favorite (not…) is when I am told that I’m not a true fan, because I didn’t stand up like the band director sign says. Personally, I stand up when the game is exciting and there is energy in the arena.

    I have been saying to some friends all year long that I miss Barnhill. I remember times when it got so loud that my ears would still be ringing when I left the arena. That has never happened for me at BWA, even in the national championship era.

    Something has to change. Move the students, play current music, bring back the sound meter. What ever it takes. BWA needs to rock like Barnhill used to.

    I am very excited about the new coach. I think he is going to bring a refreshing new style to the program based on what he has said. The same needs to happen with the “show” that goes along with the game.

  • Little R

    Sunshine, you nailed it! We need to bring back Jim Robken (or someone like him) that is high energy, imaginative, and can improvise in parallel with the game.

    One of my favorite Robken memories at Barnhill was when Moe Iba (I am pretty sure it was him) threw his coat onto the floor and picked up a technical as the teams were heading to the locker rooms at the half. When the teams were returning for the second half, Robken was playing some Russian sounding song spiked with “Heys!” that the students turned into “T!”…..Robken went with it and stirred the crowd into a frensy. It was so right for the moment and totally not scripted.

    Let Tim handle the marching band at football games and let someone with more fire and creativity handle the Hog Wild band. They might even be able to wake up the spirit squads and make some magic!

  • Mike in Magnolia

    Great post Sunshine. he first thing I would do even before I change the music is to move the students. Where they are place is ridiculous. The need to be behind the goal. I hope they let Coach Pelphrey decide what needs to be done.

  • 10KHog

    Must be a cloudy day because there ain’t no sunshine in this post.

    But, I agree.

  • LR Hog

    You nailed it. We’ve got a young coach, and we need a fired-up atmosphere to go with him. How I long for the creative, energetic days of Jim Robken! It had to help the players, too.

  • James

    That really hit the nail on the head! The overall experience does seem like 1994, only fozilized. One of my big pet peaves for the past several years has been that ridiculous, moronic ‘Who’s Number 1? We’re Number 1!” song/cheer. That cheer made complete, perfect, absolut sense – twelve years ago. It’s also annoying that the students to the same ‘Who’s She?,” “What’s That?,’ “Nice Hair” stuff – that was funny back in the early 90’s when the Hogs took on UNLV, or whoever it was when that scripted fan bit of student antics was first unleased on an unwitting public. Now, it’s like hearing a ‘knock knock’ joke, or worse, why did the chicken cross the road? To get the hell away from Tyson (harharhahr! >snort

  • ross morrison

    Piped in music blows. Trust me, have you ever been to an NBA game? It works the first few times you’re there but after that it becomes way more scripted than live band music. A Robkin clone would certainly help. And put those poor students on the floor, geez. I never understood why they’re so far away.

  • FormerBandmember

    I can tell you in one word exactly WHY the atmosphere at Bud Walton has gotten stale.

    Marketing.

    It’s all “marketing.”

    I used to be in Jim Robken’s Hogwild Band.

    Jim was wild. Jim was creative. Jim was spontaneous.

    There is nothing, and I do mean absolutely nothing wild, nothing creative nor spontaneous about pre-packaged marketing.

    Sometimes, Jim Robken did things that might be frowned upon from a marketing standpoint.

    One year, when the Texas Longhorns got stomped by the Miami Hurricanes in the Cotton Bowl, Robken donned a Miami Hurricane jacket for one of his “runs” around Barnhill Arena during the basketball game against the Longhorns.

    After the “William Tell Overture” ended, the band chanted, over and over, “Hey, Hey, Ho Ho, Texas Sucked in thet Cotton Bowl.”

    Of course, the crowd joined in with us.

    Fans loved it. They ate it up. Everybody in the arena shared that glorious warm fuzzy hate for all things burnt orange.

    But such a display is not good for marketing.

    It hurts the sanitized corporate image that people like Shanklin are so eager to present.

    Jim was great. But the simple truth is that today’s college athletics scene is just too corporatized, too marketing driven and too politically correct for even a creative genius like Jim Robken to do any good at all.

    The powers that be simply would not let him do it.

    They are more concerned about selling Hog t-shirts and baseball caps than anything else.

    Heck, they want to win only because winning helps their bottom line. More folks buy all that Razorback crap when they win more than they lose.

    It’s all corporate marketing.

  • Little R

    I was just telling Sunshine that I hated the 2001 theme song with the Arkansas flag most of all but James had to go and remind me of the more idiotic “Who’s #1?” chant……that needed to die a long time ago!

    On the signs for the player intros, it reminds me of LSU coming into Barnhill with Clarence Cesar in tow. The “Pizza! Pizza!” sign for Cesar actually got him laughing. Yyou have to have witty, game-specific, readable signs or don’t have any.

  • OwassoHog

    FormerBandmember, I too played for Jim R. so we might have been in the band at the same time (I was pre BWA)! There are probably a lot of things that we could talk about why things worked with Jim. He definitely was a hoot! The location of where we sat in Barnhill. We were up in a section to ourselves and it was well positioned to enable the sound to be well heard. Jim was goofy enough to pull it off. So much so that he was given a conference championship ring (at least one year). To my knowledge, this was a complete shock to him (getting the ring) and it made him believe that he came as close to the team as could humanly possible for a band director.

    This just doesn’t seem to happen with Tim G. :-(

  • Clint

    I don’t know if I really like the idea of the piped-in music or not. But I do have some of the same “oldies” that the band plays every game like the stupid “would ya be my girl” song or whatever it is. Also, I thought I can’t tell you how old the Green Day “Holiday” song was. Look, it’s a great song, but it has nothing to do with sports, isn’t energetic for a Green Day song, and the political implications of the song just make it seem out of place at a sporting event. The fact that I had to hear it every game while the pom squad did their dated dance routine was bad enough.

  • Wood

    What you have described is nothing different from the atmosphere at DWR. Commercial after commercial is played during every stopage of play. Yeah the Excedrin Headache (hit?) of the Game got the crowd into it and reved up. How many us thought when the Pig Screen was installed meant we would be watching commercials at a football game, one that we weren’t watching on TV. Shanklin was only doing his job when he tried to rob 10KHog but seriously. More highlights from previous seasons or games earlier in the season would be an improvement, especially non-televised games.

  • Hogfan in Louisiana

    Hey. I know I must be in the minority, but my sister and I attended an exhibition game at BWA this past November, and we had a blast! I know, we’re in our 50’s and had never been to BWA or Barnhill before, but we laughed our butts off! We sat across the court from the band and student section, and we loved the music and student choreography. When the cheerleaders would come out at time-out, the mascots were a hoot! At one point, the blown-up one put a megaphone on his nose. I just guess I saw the humor in it and enjoyed the heck out it! Of course, there were some season-ticket holders in front of us who turned around and said, very sarcastically, “They do it every game.” You must understand, too, I live in Lousiana, and anything Razorback is very refreshing to me. I don’t know when I will ever get to go to BWA again, but my one experience was one to remember.

  • EArkHog

    Back in the Good Old Days when I’d watch the razorbacks on TV, the announcer guys couldn’t get enough of Jim Robbken and the band and that volume meter pumped up to the top when they’d do the Overture. I’d get chills. The hog call after the Overture would raise the hair on your neck, too. We need to win games, and we need Jim Robbken, too.

    Get rid of that inflated doll thing that waddles around. That thing’s gross.

  • GONZOHOG

    I grew up watching Jim Robkin make his famous run around BarnHill Arena, on the last note of the the Hog theme song, just in time to finish, by picking up his wand at the last second, when it seemed as if all of the band members were running out of air. We had the coolest band director in the land, and everbody knew it. We watched Robkin do this almost every single televised game for years. He seemed as if he were a Hog mascot himself. I agree Sunshine, we need some of this magic back in BWA, like we used to have it in Barnhill. The Oldies are good for setting around with friends, throwing horse shoes. They don’t belong in BWA at game time.

  • 10KHog

    Speaking of, where’s the contests for money that they used to have. The only one I’ve seen lately is one shot at a three pointer for $25k. Come on, make it a challenge and you’ll see the crowd get pumped up. The last time that happened that stupid kid won it and then they took it away and then they gave it to him… all the while the students yelling “Fuji Sucks”… marketing at its’ finest!

  • OwassoHog

    One additional item that I failed to mention about Jim… he was very good about keeping a somewhat respectful attitude with the band members for the other team. Maybe, just maybe the worst thing he’d generally let us do was to read the Hog Calls newspaper for the introduction of the opposing team. He’d let you have fun, enjoy the game, and cheer your hearts out for the Razorbacks but generally you were to respect the other team even when the team went below our area! This was in spite of how much we wanted to heckle Abe Lemons!

  • 2hogfans

    Fantastic Post! I could not agree more!

  • Bradley Ward

    Great Post! So True! Really enjoyed reading it! Hopefully the PTB read it too!

  • http://www.razorbloggers.net/ HogBaller

    Moving the student sections around probably won’t happen, but getting a change in the band, spirit squad and overall atmosphere is entirely possible.

    Excellent article, I totally agree.

  • BACON BITS

    I guess the question you would have to ask yourself is at what point would you add to the overall presentation and music. Sure some techno and some Urban hits would get the players and students rowdy but some of the ticket holders are (let’s just say a little more of a mature audience). Then you would have complaints about that.

    I agree however that we need to add the speaker pounding music that the younger kids like. It will draw more recruits and add to the intimidation factor for visiting teams.

  • Waldron Hog

    Fielding an exciting team who shows up to play every game (home and away) will put more folks in the seats. A result will be more noise anyway. Unless our new coach is given some control, I doubt we see any changes at all. Our leaders at the UofA don’t seem to be much for change. They did try once with David Bazzell and the “Root Hog” thing which didn’t go over very well. I don’t think they’ve done anything since.

    The Hog call is still the most intimidating thing we can do unless the building gets so loud you can’t hear anything but noise. Only the team can cause that to happen. When it’s like that, you can’t hear cheer leaders or the pep band.

  • RadioBoy

    I have been saying this so long that somebody thought I had either, (a) written this or (b) you are reading my mind.

    I’m not a big fan of the piped in stuff, but I am a huge fan of spontanaity (I’m pretty sure I spelled that wrong, but I don’t have time to look it up).

    We need a different band director, but that won’t solve the whole problem. We need to give the new, high-energy band director freedom to choreograph the show on the fly. Of course, that would mean prying control away from some fairly entrenched individuals.

    IMO, the day the WT Overture was played during a time out called by the Razorbacks was the day the wheels fell off this wagon.

  • Gas Hawg

    I remember starting that Fuji Sucks chant that 10K Hog mentioned – it was because the guy had just made a half court shot but they didn’t want to give him the money – total B.S. The bottom line in any big league program is sponsorship – the Hogs have it but no variety of it which is why when you go to BWA all you see is Wal-Mart and Tyson ads to go with a little ring of Coke ads.

    I went to law school from 00 through 03 and never missed a home bb game. Those were tough times. I look forward to future and being able to watch an entire BB game on TV without having to leave the room in frustration. Go Hawgs!

  • Tyler

    Thanks for putting my picture on the site. Yes that’s me depressed on the megaphone in Spokane, WA. Some of your arguments are valid but remember the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. The best the for BWA (as a student and a fan) would be to relocate the student section to something like what the Cameron Crazies have. What would be better than that? I know: for some of these sponsorships to lower the costs of student tickets. 4 years ago they were about 130$ for all the home games. It boiled down to about eight bucks a game but it was still a pretty penny to drop for a college student living on Ramen. Now, they break the tickets up into packages of about four games each and you have to select which one you want. In conclusion, I had to become a cheerleader to get in for free and get closer to the court. Mediocraty is hard to get pumped up about from a distance and for money we don’t have. (i realize this post is late and probably nobody will read it, but i just felt like an inside opinion would be nice.

  • http://www.razorbloggers.net/ TipsterHog

    Tyler…thanks for your comment. We’ll always welcome you providing your “inside” opinion here.

    Sorry about using that pic from the USC b-ball game. Trust me…that game was such an ugly blowout…we all looked that way. Most of us were just looking that way sitting on the couch at home without a camera there to “record the moment.”

    Anyway…we all know the pic below is the way you guys were 99% of the time this year. Thanks to you and all the other members of the spirit squads for all your hard work and effort.

    <img style=”display: block; width: 240px; text-align: center” src=”http://farm1.static.flickr.com/103/300592286_53fa286416_m.jpg” />

  • Pignatious

    I could not agree more with this post. Get rid of Gunter! We need a new band director in the worst way. I’m not happy with the same old, same old and I don’t believe other fans are either. We need to be constantly evolving to up with other programs. The Bud has become a parody of what real Razorback games should be about. Most of it is Heath’s boring basketball style, but a lot of it rests with the sorry entertainment aspect. My wife is an OSU grad and says the cheerleaders and drill squad are just not up to speed. We need to really clean house from top to bottom and start fresh.

  • hogfan949701

    I was a member of the Hogwild band from 1987 through 1992. Boy, those were the days, at least from 87-91 when Robken was at the helm. It was wild, crazy and an absolutely tremendous experience that I was lucky enough to be a part of. Most of the alumni of the the HogWild band (which Robken created by the way with the help and support of Eddie Sutton) call the band the “Hog-Mild” band now. There was a complete change of mindset that I saw start happening when we would go to Barnhill South (Reunion Arena) for the SWC Tournament in Dallas. They would always try to play those Dr. Pepper, et al commercials during the time outs. They actually had an arena manager (marketing person i’m sure) that would tell our graduate assistant over a headset when we could and couldn’t play music during the time outs because the planned on playing a stupid commercial. My thought at the time and even today is; “if I wanted to watch a freakin’ commercial I would have stayed home and watched the game on TV. I remember numerous times that our GA would be getting the message to not play and Robken would go ahead and fire us up and get something going that got the crowd going absolutely zonkers! Basically he said screw the system let’s entertain the crowd! Heck that’s what they were there for!! Shanklin came up to us in the HogWild set numerous times when Robken was there and told us to stop playing right in the middle of a set and we would scream and yell at him to “get the Hell outta here!” I know that he has what the UofA feels that he has a job to do, but nothing sells stuff more than an exciting atmosphere and winning team!! Much like Johnny Carson, you will never ever find a replacement for Jim Robken. He was one of a kind. I really miss him.

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