2016 was a big year for the Victoria Highlanders. Not only did it mark their return to the PDL after a spending a year treading water in the PCSL, it also marked a change of stadium. With the team having relocated from Royal Athletic Park, which now serves as the Victoria Harbourcats (baseball) home field, up to the University of Victoria’s Centennial Stadium, there was quite an adjustment to the game-day experience. The year started without any alcohol in place, confused players facing opposing directions for the national anthem, and without any merchandise for anyone bigger than a kid’s medium. The experience improved over the course of the year, but there’s a lot more that can be done to improve.

At the end of the season, the game day crew had finally come around to the idea of having the anthem sung live, and having youth kneeling & standing in front of the players while facing the crowd & presenting the appropriate flags. That’s a great way to start off the match. Start off every match this way and you’ve already reduced the beer-league aspect greatly. Some matches also saw the screen in use, showing both the score and following the action. This is another huge plus, if you can do it regularly. If you can’t do it every game, just have it as a scoreboard. The inconsistency is not beneficial to the club.

Next, let’s talk about the music. That “band” of high-school kids who were trying to sing rock classics but were completely unable to hit the notes? No. Unless it’s a favour for a really high-paying sponsor, you’re hurting our ears and driving guests away. Even worse, by placing them directly between the concession tent & the covered stands, you’re forcing people to go really close to the speakers. For anyone with infants, toddlers, or young children, you’re seriously threatening to damage their hearing. It’s a major hazard, and something that needs to be avoided. Music is great (when it’s not during play), but audition the band first to make sure they’re actually decent, and place them so people don’t have to walk past their speakers in order to get food. Heck, let them set up a small merch table if they want to sell some band shirts & CDs, it’s good for everyone.

West-side Stands. Photo by Shawn Gray. CC 2.0 SA-BY

Speaking of “music,” some of the best came as chants from Supporters Groups. The Lake Side Buoys were there all season chanting at various volumes, depending on how thick their ranks were that match. During the match against Lane United, the Red Aces made an appearance and the competing chants & songs ran electric through the crowd. This was by far the loudest & most exciting match. Although the Highlanders can’t exactly cause more Lake Side Buoys to show up, or summon supporters groups from across the strait, there definitely needs to be more to draw people to the group. The Lake Side Buoys need to step up their [recruitment] game, and this may mean having a proper “supporters zone” and drawing attention to the club & group during & outside of matches. With less than 500 people at the matches, often the only life in the stands comes from this crowd, so they need to be seen & heard to help get everyone going. On the flip side, the front office may want to find an area away from the LSB’s and visiting supporters groups to designate as “family friendly” so they aren’t hit with supporter exuberance, loud pipes, and the occasionally questionable language for which supporters groups are known.

The Highlanders came a long way from the first match of 2016, but there’s still plenty of room to improve. Today I’ve been looking at some of the sights & sounds that could use some work in order to improve the fan experience. There were basically 4 key points: consistent digital board use, proper anthem coordination, a band that isn’t made up of high school hopefuls whose musical dreams need crushing, and growth of the supporters section to keep morale high. I’ll be back January 23rd with “Part 2: Smells & Tastes”, with “Part 3: Feel & Own It” on February 6th.

Edited to add the word “recruitment” on 13 Jan 2017. That one word changes the meaning of half a paragraph. Sorry folks!

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