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RenoZag
03-03-2007, 08:19 AM
From today's Wall Street Journal:

Roar Wars: The New Science of Fan Power

By RUSSELL ADAMS
March 3, 2007

The Ohio State Buckeyes are an early favorite to advance to the Final Four of the NCAA basketball championship later this month, thanks to their 7-foot freshman center and charismatic coach. They have also gotten help from another source: Hundreds of rowdy students now sitting courtside -- a move that pushed season-ticket holders farther away from the action. The idea was to raise the noise level and rattle Buckeye opponents. "It worked," says Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith. "They stand the whole game, and they scream at everything.

It's an article of faith among many fans that their cheers can help lift their teams to victory. Now, research suggests the effect is both real and potent -- and teams are taking new steps to harness fan power.

Oregon State University recently spent more than $500,000 to install football bleachers that make more noise when stomped on. The University of Maryland picked a relatively uncomfortable seating option for some sections of its Comcast Center to force fans onto their feet as often as possible.

The push for fan power is ratcheting up a cat-and-mouse game between teams looking for an edge and league officials charged with keeping things fair. A number of college-basketball conferences, including the ACC and the Big East, are cracking down on the practice of seating pep bands directly behind visitors' benches to make it harder for coaches to talk to their teams during timeouts.

Perhaps nothing is as contentious as relocating alumni to make way for raucous students. Ohio State says about 10% of the displaced regular-season ticket holders complained, and a few asked for refunds. "We didn't run anybody out of the building," says Bill Jones, the assistant athletic director for ticketing.

One of the power players in this business is Kansas City, Mo., architecture firm Ellerbe Becket and its longtime design director, James Poulson, who is emerging as a master of maximizing crowd noise. His firm recently completed construction of the University of Virginia's basketball arena and is working on one for Missouri State University.

Mr. Poulson made his name in the 1990s, overseeing construction of the Portland Trail Blazers' arena for owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Mr. Allen, an avid fan of both music and sports, wanted the new venue to draw top bands for concerts but not if that meant using materials that would deaden crowd noise during basketball games. Ellerbe Becket came up with a novel although expensive solution: rotating ceiling panels with a soft, absorptive side for concerts and a hard side that reflects crowd noise back to the court during games.

Mr. Allen later hired Mr. Poulson to construct Qwest Field in Seattle. In addition to contracting engineers to make sure that the wind and rain would disproportionately hit the visitors' sideline, Mr. Poulson placed the cheapest endzone seats (where, he says, the "crazies" sit) atop steel risers that send thundering noise to the hard surfaces on the overhangs and roof, redirecting it back to the field. The Seahawks are among the NFL's leaders in false-start penalties called against visiting teams.

There's no debate that teams fare better at home. Sports statistician Jeff Sagarin says that if two teams of equal ability play, the home team would be expected to win 61% of the time in the NFL, just over 65% in the NBA and nearly 70% in college basketball. Teams play better at home for a variety of reasons beyond a cheering crowd, from their familiarity with the court or field to the toll that travel takes on visiting teams.