Student-led study finds cheering at hockey game may not help home team

Calendar Icon Dec 09, 2015      Person Bust Icon By Karl Vogel     RSS Feed  RSS Submit a Story

Brenna Boyd, a junior in architectural engineering.
Brenna Boyd, a junior in architectural engineering.
Sports fans love to cheer for their favorite teams, and many of those fans believe their cheering can affect their team’s performance positively.

But an acoustical study performed by Brenna Boyd, a UNL junior architectural engineering major, suggests loud cheering at hockey games probably doesn’t help the home team and might actually create a disadvantage for the players on the ice and the fans in the stands.

“Cheering doesn’t actually affect how many goals are scored. That’s really interesting to see because as a fan you believe the cheering will help,” said Boyd, who presented the results of her study Nov. 2 at the annual Acoustical Society of America meeting in Jacksonville, Florida. “If it’s too loud, that can negatively affect the players because they aren’t able to hear teammates and they miss verbal cues.”

Boyd’s work was sponsored by a UNL Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience (UCARE) award, and advised by Dr. Lily Wang, professor in the Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction.

She based her study on the findings of Andrew Barnard, who as a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University studied noise levels at home football games. Those games were played in Beaver Stadium, an open-air facility with more than 107,000 seats. Barnard found that sustained loud noise – with measured peaks of 122 decibels when Penn State’s opponent had the football – can impact the players.

Boyd wondered if those results would be the same for a sport that is almost exclusively played indoors in a closed-roof arena, so she analyzed acoustical measurements from four University of Nebraska Omaha home hockey games at the CenturyLink Center during the 2014-15 season and survey feedback from players after the games.

“I’m not as into football as most people, so I wanted to do hockey. It’s a completely different kind of a game, where there’s not a lot of getting together and talking through a play before it happens,” Boyd said. “I wanted to look at how loud the crowd was while the players were on the ice playing and trying to communicate.”

The average sound levels for the UNO hockey games were, Boyd said, above recommended safe levels for the human ear and all of the peaks were above thresholds for pain or permanent damage.

The loudest game Boyd measured had an average of 95.5 decibels in the student section, with peaks of 132 decibels – roughly the same as standing 50 feet from a jackhammer or 100 feet from a jet engine and 20 decibels louder than the average rock concert. The world record for loudest sporting event is 142 decibels during a 2014 Kansas City Chiefs home football game.

Knowing that pain and permanent hearing loss can occur when sound reaches 130 decibels, Boyd sees an application of her study to be in the way sporting arenas are constructed.

“I was looking to see if we could design stadiums that would better amplify the cheering, if people wanted to amplify it,” Boyd said. “Now, I think the way to go is to design the stadium and don’t try to make it as loud a stadium as possible. That might hinder the players, sure, but it also can cause injury to the fans. If we did build a stadium we’d want to make it a little more quiet.”

Boyd also sees using this study and another project she’s working on to change processes used to design buildings, especially arenas and stadiums.

“Acoustics doesn’t get put on BIM (building information modeling) early in the process, and a lot of times it’s an afterthought, if anything,” Boyd said. “I’m trying to see if there’s a way we can use BIM for a quick acoustical analysis. We could easily use the data that’s available to look at each room and say whether it meets the acoustical standards and fix things before construction even begins.”

This fall, the UNO hockey team is playing in the brand-new Baxter Arena. After getting feedback from the ASA meeting, Boyd said she’s eager to find out how the new environment will affect the play on the ice, which may require extending and expanding the study.

“I really want to go deeper into the study, give a survey to the crowd and go to some away games to see how it compares to other arenas hockey-wise. Maybe then, I could open it up to different sports and just make it bigger and more broad,” Boyd said. “As of right now, I know cheering doesn’t help the players score more goals.”

Boyd said the study hasn’t changed her love of hockey, but is making her more aware of the real impact her cheering has.

“When I’m at a game, I think about the study all the time. I’m a little bit self-conscious about it and try to make sure I’m not contributing to making the environment too loud for other people,” Boyd said. “It’s harder to cheer for the team now. Every time I yell, ‘get the puck,’ I know they can’t actually hear me, but I can’t stop cheering anyway.”

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