Here in Washington DC, we’ve been blessed with teams in each of the four main team sports. As nobody living in DC is actually from DC, there’s sometimes more excitement over opposing teams (think Yankees and Cavs) than there is over the Nationals and Wizards themselves. But if you root for a bad team, you find yourself hoping that DC teams win. I can tell you this from experience, as the Heat, Marlins, and Dolphins have all had at least one year in the last five where they have been, at a minimum, crappy (I won’t even pretend I care about the Florida Panthers, but I’m just going to assume they haven’t really been tearing up the league, of late). Of course, the DC team will never replace your home team, just as the city itself probably won’t ever fully replace the warm feelings of your childhood home.
Mildly depressing side plots aside, this is all to say that I’ve seen all four DC teams play live. As you might expect, all four sports each target a different sort of clientele, a truth made most obvious when you’re in the building itself watching the game. Within this experience, one particular characteristic stands as the most memorable: music.
Understanding the musical selections of the different teams on gameday tells you, more than anything else, the type of demographic the teams are gunning for. In DC, the lines could not be clearer:
The Wizards are probably the team most trying to get my business. I’m pretty sure they have meetings at their headquarters revolving around how to get young professionals excited about the game of basketball and whole cool culture of the “Ball is Life” mentality. The hope is that the fans whose home teams are going through a slump will convert to the Wizards (or at least buy a Nene jersey semi-ironically). All of the young Heat, Celtics, Lakers, and Knicks fans who drop into the Verizon Center on occasion are clearly in mind when the playlists are made. After a couple of buzzworthy newer songs, some recognizable older hip-hop instrumentals, and a bunch of other things that tell you “The Washington Wizards: This Team is Not For Old People,” I’ve always left games both pleased and concerned that I was the target demographic.
I’ve been to one Capitals game, ever. Given that they’re a DC team, I was mildly shocked to find that they had a real, loud, engaged,seemingly not-just-using-a-Groupon crowd. I live four blocks from the Verizon Center, which the Capitals and Wizards share, and I have reason to feel like I’m the one guy standing in the middle of the Venn diagram of people who have gone to a Wizards game, and people who have gone to a Capitals game. I know that isn’t true, but look no further than the National Anthem for my point to be proven: at Capitals games, it seems as if everyone yells the “O” part of the “O Say Does That..” part of the anthem where the fighter jets start to go over the stadium. This is a tradition that stems from something people do at Orioles games. This sort of makes sense, if you’re AT an Orioles game, or maybe watching the same sport at all, or in the same state. But no, here we are at a hockey game in Washington, DC, with everyone standing in silence until it’s time to pay homage to the Baltimore Orioles. The rest of the music at the Capitals game was very much in line with what you’d expect from people who’d enjoy having to be in a sweater whilst indoors. There may have been Creed. With the Orioles/anthem thing, you may have even forgotten that DC has a baseball team of its own…
There are certain ways to know that you’re at a major-league ballpark. Things that are unmistakable and baked into the traditionalist mindset of the game: organ music, keeping score by hand, crappy and overpriced stadium food, the list continues. The Nationals have found a way to sap all of that homeyness from their source material, with a Shake Shack at the stadium and scorecards making way for screens with just-received business emails. That isn’t to mention their punctuating the time between at-bats with blasts of top-40 or piped-in exhortations to cheer, instead of the organ player who lightly chides opponents by way of walkup song choice and is capable of making small, endearing mistakes. Now, in a nod to the Viagra-commercial targets that will watch and get mad at anything even approaching baseball, they do play “Centerfield” by John Fogerty without fail at every game. That’s a good song, but come on, we get it, there’s baseball stuff in the title. It’s metaphorical! That dude must have known he was in for a lifetime of that song playing at every stadium forever when he wrote it. I bet he regrets not riding the wave and making allegorical songs called “Small Forward” and “Defensive Lineman.”
As a respectful and classy gold-standard football organization, the Washington Redskins are no stranger to praise over their in-stadium musical selections. As staunch supporters of the Native American community, the team insists on playing only traditional music by the most masterful of Native artists. This ruffles some feathers, but Dan Snyder really wants everyone to know where he stands on this issue: he really, really is a nice guy. What a good guy, exposing the art and culture of a marginalized and poverty-stricken population to those who would otherwise never know about it. Just kidding, they just play a LOT of AC/DC and other music that sounds like Bud Light tastes.