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Music in Sport Part 1: Setting the Tune for Player Performance

Music in Sport Part 1: Setting the Tune for Player Performance

Music in sport at all levels is common. Whether it’s pre, post or during the game; music is omnipresent.

Music in Sport for Players

Likewise, music plays a large role in our daily activities. We listen to music in the car. It’s played on the bus and in elevators. Also, it simmers in the background while studying or eating. Zzzzzzzz… when we were babies, we fell asleep listening to it #rockabyebaby. Some of us still do! Hey, and sometimes educators use it in the classroom to pump up their students (or do they?).

Music pervades our lives in too many ways to count. So let’s focus on music in sport for now.

Back to Sport

Anyone allergic to peanut butter? What the h***. What does that have to do with sport? Indeed, it does. Music and sport go together like peanut butter and jelly. Mmmmmmmmm. That’s why!

Many layers exist when discussing music in sport. That’s why we’ve separated the discussion into three parts. This part looks at the nexus between athletic performance and music. We look at it through the lens of a sport marketer looking to enhance the fan experience.

One of the biggest components of the fan experience is the outcome (win, lose or draw). Unfortunately, those responsible for fan engagement cannot really control this aspect of the game. But they can try and give the home team an edge by playing songs they like. 

Undoubtedly, numerous studies exist on the nexus between player performance and music. Researchers say athletic performance can be enhanced by music.

“When the brain is listening to music, it lights up like a Christmas tree. It’s an ideal stimuli because it reaches [parts of the brain] that can’t easily be reached.”

Costas I Karageorghis

One doesn’t have to look far to see that athletes use music all the time to get themselves energized. That’s especially true if you do a quick GIPHY search of Russell Westbrook dancing. Here’s just some what you’ll find:

A Sport Management Perspective on Music in Sport

Sport performance specialists and psychologists are super into the nexus. Why not? It’s their job to know what to do to help athletes perform better. But this is article is geared towards current and aspiring Sport Management professionals. So let’s look at it from a managerial perspective. If research says music pumps up your players, maybe it can energize the opposition too? Since winning effects the bottom line, how music impacts player psyche must be taken into account.

That’s where Game Day Operations comes in. 

Music in Sport: What the players want

Typically, Game Day Operations teams seek advice on music selection from its players.

Thanks to this link and as confirmed by Taylor Dean, Manager of Game Presentation:

Nazem Kadri curates Toronto Maple Leafs’ pre-game playlist.

Ahaaaaaaa… we got our hands on 4 songs the Toronto Maple Leafs played during their warm-up skate. Since music selection changes, it’s important to note that this list is from when the team played the Tampa Bay Lightning at home on Monday, March 11, 2019.

The Impact of Walk Up Songs

Curate a list of songs players want to hear when they walk up to the mound or plate. For some players, this song is instrumental in their success at the plate.

For instance, former San Francisco Giants’ shortstop Brandon Crawford made some adjustments to his approach at the plate after being stuck in a major slump. One adjustment was switching his walk-up music to Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger.” His batting average jumped 20 points in the second half. Geeeeeeezz.

Funny enough, Major League Baseball (MLB) collects data from all 30 teams on what players walk up to. As a matter of fact, they share it with fans.

Here’s a collection of the Blue Jays’ walk up songs for the start of the 2019 season:

We’re still curious as to how this song pumps up a player. Anyone care to share their thoughts? You’re encouraged to in the comment section at the bottom of the page.

What about em’ road players?

Occasionally home teams play music to antagonize an opposing player. Yet music you though would get in that player’s head doesn’t always. For instance, the Atlanta Braves trolled Bryce Harper by playing this tune from Star Wars. This Star Wars theme song is meant to symbolize the bad characters in the film: Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, Kylo Ren, and more.

Oops! Are the Braves’ Game Day Operations team to blame for the home run? Did they ignite a fire in Harper’s eyes and incentive revenge in the form of a home run. Maybe. But probably not. Many players are trained to ignore the background noise. Regardless, it is worth exploring which players react with more motivation when being trolled. On the other hand, knowing which players perform poorly when being trolled is strong consideration. Sometimes you just have to let the fans do the trolling. Fans will likely troll the opposition inherently.

Music Can Shape a Routine

Let’s move quickly to another sport. Figure skating is probably the most unacknowledged sport in Sport Management education. Any times you can remember when your professor(s) applied examples to this sport?

So we mention figure skating because music has an enormous impact on the skater’s performance.

Until recently, the International Skating Union banned the use of lyrics during Olympic competition. After the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, figure skaters were permitted to use lyrics. In the 2018 Olympics, here’s a list of some of the songs used for routines. The entire routine is choreographed around the beat, tempo and message of the song selection.

Actually, our (Canada’s) gold medalist ice dancers Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue ended their final routine with “El Tango de Roxanne” from Moulin Rouge! Don’t tell us they aren’t dating, haha. The music selected provides a theme for the routine. It also allows the audience to connect to the skaters. Think about the deep connections Canadians felt towards the skating duo.According to fans on social media, the added dimension of lyrics enhanced the viewing experience for figure skating at the  2018 Winter Olympics.

The Verdict on Music in Sport: Player’s Perspective

To conclude, Game Day Operations departments have the difficult task of parsing through music trends and team desires. They must find music that energizes the home team. What’s more, they need to recognize music that will energize the opposition. Also, they may discover music that irritates the opposition. Overall, balancing music choice is an extremely difficult task. Sometimes all the work done to curate playlists doesn’t pay off (see Harper example above). Nonetheless, it can fun and rewarding to plan for and to reflect on.

Next we’ll look at how game day music impacts fan identification.

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