A. C. Cain

Finding the major stories in the minor leagues

Tag: Hockey

Mascot Mania takes over Santander Arena

On Saturday, March 5 Santander Arena was crawling with all sorts of animals and objects and the Reading Royals celebrated Slapshot’s birthday.

The special day was celebrated in the best way possible, with Mascot Mania. The event drew mascots from dozens of local professional teams, colleges and businesses, as well as the Fur Circus, a professional mascot entertainment group.

Attendees included Melvin from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Ferrous from the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, Cylo from the Lancaster Barnstormers, Avalanche from Kutztown University, and many more.

While it seems odd, sending mascots away from their home field or arena is not unusual. Most notably, Major League Baseball teams send their mascots out on goodwill tours frequently, whether to gather more fans or to maintain the fans they already have.

While the night was a special celebration for Slapshot, the fans were the ones who got the real treat. Mascots roamed the stands throughout the game, taking photos with fans and providing endless entertainment.

From spilling popcorn, to rubbing heads, and leading cheers, the mascots emptied their bag of tricks to entertain the Royals’ fans.

And there were plenty of fans. The birthday celebration coincided with Scout Night, and a January snowstorm forced the Wall of Honor induction ceremony for Gordon Kaye to be rescheduled for this game. The three events led to a nearly sold-out arena.

Fur Circus added to the entertainment by roaming the stands with the other mascots, and giving two performances: a dance off between two young fans, and their own dance performance.

The impact of the mascots was apparent throughout the entire game. The arena was filled with the sounds of various cheers breaking out across the stands as individual mascots encouraged sections of fans. Children could be heard calling out for their favorite mascot, or darting after them in the concourse trying to grab a hug or a picture.

Even fans stuck waiting in-line for food were included in the fun, with various mascots passing by and offering high-fives as they journeyed from one portion of the arena to another.

The mascots set the perfect tone for the evening, and fans were cheering and dancing through the entire game.

The soundtrack of the game

Fans attend minor league sporting events for the atmosphere as much as the entertainment. Being surrounded by other fans and eating typical concession food is an important part of the experience. Another crucial part of the experience, though often overlooked, is the music.

Minor league sports, just like major league sports, are fueled by a constant soundtrack used to keep the fans energized and engaged, and to keep the players’ blood pumping throughout the game.

Fans tend to overlook the importance of music because it is always there, but a closer look at the numerous roles music plays proves that it is a crucial part of every game and every fan experience.

Benjamin Smith can attest to the importance of music, he is the Music and Sound Coordinator for the Reading Fightin’ Phils and the Reading Royals. Smith began working for both teams in 2011, and knows music’s many roles better than most.

At a typical home game for the Reading Fightin’ Phils, double-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, the music starts long before fans even enter the stadium. The music coordinator is in charge of providing music while both teams take batting practice, and the music being played on the field fills most of the stadium as the game-day staff prepares for the game.

Smith says he generally arrives at the stadium 3 hours before game time to make sure he is fully prepared, because the job comes with a lot of stress.

“There can be certain situations where your patience is tested,” Smith says, “We do a lot of pre- and post-game activities, which keeps you on your toes.”

Once the gates open, a band performing on the Weston Center Winning Smile Stage during Happy Hour may replace the batting practice music. This music is piped through the entire stadium, serenading fans as they search for their seats.

When the pre-game festivities get underway, the music changes to highlight any theme the day might be celebrating, be it Elvis, Disney, or even Jimmy Buffet. A crucial part of the pre-game is the theme songs for both the Fightin’ Phils and Baseballtown, which include a karaoke style video encouraging fans to sing along.

When the game begins the music switches to a blend of walk-up music, selected by the players as they begin their at-bat, warm-up music, chosen by both starting and relief pitchers, and stock music that plays whenever certain events happen on the field.

This music is managed effortlessly, constantly switching from one scenario to another and always starting and stopping at the proper time to provide seamless transitions.

Post-game festivities may also call for music; particularly fireworks shows, which are always complimented with music Smith mixes live. The stadium finally falls silent when nearly every fan has left.

The Reading Royals, the ECHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers, offer a different look at the role of music.

Yes, some of the tasks are the same. The music keeps fans energetic and keeps the players’ pumped-up, but in other ways it is very unique.


Graphic designed by Ariane Cain. Graphic created using easel.ly. Info courtesy of Benjamin Smith

While baseball uses batting practice music, hockey relies on warm-up music to get both the players and the fans ready for the game.

Hockey is a much faster game than baseball, meaning the music has to change faster to react to scenarios. The goal of music in hockey focused much more on crowd participation and leading the fans in chants and songs to keep the players energized, and Smith says this fast-paced, high-energy atmosphere can make the job more challenging.

“You constantly have to have music ready to go during games because of how drastically a situation can change. Again, your patience can get tested.”

With less downtime, hockey doesn’t provide as much opportunity for music during play, but each period break is filled with entertainment for the fans, which must be appropriately accompanied.

Whenever you hear and feel a crowd getting louder and louder at a game, thank the music coordinator. Smith says that he knows he is successful when the crowd gets louder and responds positively to the music being played.

Despite all of the stress, Smith knows that the job comes with benefits, and the impact of the music on the crowd makes everything worth it.

“The fun and energy that I have experienced over the years on those sell-out games makes me absolutely speechless.”

Benjamin Smith: The man behind the music

Thousands of fans pack the seats at FirstEnergy Stadium for each baseball game cheering, clapping and dancing to the music. No one glances back to the press box to see the man behind the music.

Photo courtesy of Ben Smith

Photo courtesy of Ben Smith

That man is Benjamin Smith, the Music and Sound Coordinator for both the Reading Fightin’ Phils and the Reading Royals. Smith thrives in the press box, watching over the game and the fans, and creating the atmosphere with music.

Smith’s love for music began while attending Reading Phillies games with his dad and hearing the range of songs that were played. At the age of 18 he began working for the Reading Phillies.

“Since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to do music for them,” Smith says. “I grew up going there a lot, and I just fell in love with the atmosphere and passion that the Fightin’ Phils provide.”

When baseball season ended, Smith began working for the Reading Royals and discovered a completely different atmosphere.

The view from Ben's workspace at the Reading Royals. Photo courtesy of Ben Smith.

The view from Ben’s workspace at the Reading Royals.
Photo: Ben Smith.

“With hockey, the pace of the game is always pretty high, and that’s one thing that I love,” Smith says. “You constantly have to have music ready to go during games because of how drastically a situation can change.”

Four years later Smith is still encouraging Reading fans to get up and dance. The job can get stressful at times, he arrives three hours before game time each night and also works numerous pre- and post-game events, but the fans give him the energy to keep going.

“I use the talent that God has provided me to entertain, in some cases, as many as 9,000 people in one night,” Smith says. “The energy that it provides is simply amazing.”

His fellow employees can see the impact Smith makes at events.

“He does a great job pumping up the crowd during Royals games,” Kurt Roberts, a fellow employee at both places, says of Smith. “Getting the crowd into the game can sometimes get the team more into the game.”

Smith’s work even has a noticeable effect on the players.

“His music plays a big part,” Roberts says, “He plays a warm-up music mix to get the Royals players ready during warm-ups for the game, and at the stadium the walk-up music gets the player pumped up for his at-bat or pitching appearance.”

Maybe the next time the crowd is dancing and cheering to the music, one fan will turn around and see the man behind the music, but even if no one does, Smith is happy to be doing his job.

“I just love how much music tells a story and how it causes people to show all of their emotions,” Smith says; his passion is clear as he in unable to stop the smile that slides across his face. “It also creates an atmosphere of fun and laughter and that is just something that has always put a smile on my face. I figure if I can make people happy then I’m doing my job right.”

Rescue a pet with the Royals

The Reading Royals invite fans to join them on December 19th for Pucks and Paws, a night of hockey, charity, and four-legged friends, at Santander Arena.

Pucks and Paws is the fourth game featured this season as part of the Royals’ Community Series. Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, the Community Series is a set of nine games throughout the season that raise awareness and money for local charitable organizations. In an interview for Royalshockey.com, Reading Royals team President Drew Bell said, “The Greater Reading area is full of really good people doing really great things, and we need to shed the biggest spotlight we can on them and their initiatives.” With Pucks and Paws the Royals ask fans to help them support the people trying to help the abandoned animals of the community.

Fans attending the game will be treated to a lot more than just hockey as the Royals face-off against the Elmira Jackals. The festivities begin at the doors, so fans may want to arrive early for the 7:00 game.

To kick-off the event the Royals are featuring a brand new giveaway: a pet calendar! This unique calendar stars the Royals’ players and their pets on every page.

In keeping with the animal theme, the Reading Royals will be wearing specialty themed jerseys. These jerseys will be auctioned off at the conclusion of the game, and all of the money will go to local animal shelters and rescue missions.

While the focus of the night will be the animals, fans are asked to show their full charitable spirit as the game will also feature the annual Toys for Tots Teddy Bear Toss. This event is a fan favorite, and all fans are invited to bring a teddy bear, which will be tossed on to the ice after the Royals score their first goal. All of the bears will be collected and donated to Toys for Tots.

The animals won’t be upstaged by the teddy bears though, the game will also host the brand new puppy race, an event that will have fans cheering for dogs instead of hockey players.

Fans looking to adopt a cat or dog will have even more to cheer about: several local animals will be available for adoption at Santander Arena during the game. Even those fans not looking to adopt can stop by and say hello to a few furry, friendly faces.

Tickets for the 7:00 game are available at Royalshockey.com.

“To me, it’s critical for organizations like ours to do everything we can to promote positivity and help push our community forward,” Drew Bell said. Fans can help the with this goal by coming out on December 19th and supporting the Reading Royals as well as all of the four-legged friends in search of a home this holiday season.

For a complete schedule of the Reading Royals Community Series games, visit royalshockey.com.

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