The conservative musical selections at Chicago Bulls games

While I think this Chicago Tribune piece about the DJs at Chicago Bulls games was supposed to provide a behind-the-scenes look at how musical selections are made, the real crux of the story seems to be that the music selections are quite conservative:

Every Bulls game at the United Center has its own soundtrack. Just as each game is different, roller coasters of emotions and shifting fortunes, the music and sound effects roll with the changes. A team of about 20 technicians plays DJ each night at the United Center, accenting the ebbs and surges on the floor.

The head DJ is Jeff Wohlschlaeger, the Bulls’ senior director of game operations, who sits courtside and communicates on a headset to music and scoreboard operators to wed sounds and game action. There are cavalry-charge bugle calls and countless ways of imploring “De-Fense,” but there are also more than 1,000 songs and song snippets available to enhance every movement and mood…

When the home team has the ball, just about anything goes. Nothing is explicitly banned, but all teams know they’re programming for a family-friendly event, so songs deemed the least bit salacious or provocative won’t be tolerated, the NBA says. Teams that bend the rules often end up paying for it. The NBA’s “Game Operations” department monitors every game; one source in the office said that at least two NBA franchises were fined in the last month for inappropriate sound and video while the visiting team was on offense.

The Bulls don’t push the envelope by design, Wohlschlaeger says. The music selections are “conservative,” reflecting a mix of classic rock and contemporary pop hits that is determined by audience surveys. During Game 2 of the Hawks series, songs leading out of timeouts designed to get the crowd pumped included the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!),” AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” John Mellencamp’s “Authority Song” and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels’ “Devil With a Blue Dress On.”…

Mostly, it’s about what the paying customers want, Wohlschlaeger says, “tried and true stuff that you or I would never listen to in a car, but that gets a positive reaction from the fans.”

On one hand, the article suggests that the DJs have a lot of music and sound effects at their disposal and try to respond to the action on the floor. On the other hand, it sounds clear that the actual music/effects played is quite limited in order to please the NBA and the fans. I can’t quite say why I find this depressing: it still sounds like an intriguing job but at the same time, much of it sounds scripted. For example, the article mentions the playing of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” which every Bulls fan who has watched a game this year or in recent years knows is played during a timeout with about 4-6 minutes left in the game. So all of this is simply canned, fan-friendly entertainment?

I wonder if there are any pro sports teams who are known for pushing the envelope a bit more in their musical selections. Does everyone play the same stuff that the DJs “would never listen to in a car” but they think is safe for fans? Having attended a number of San Francisco Giants games over the last 10 years or so, I know they play a lot more salsa music, fitting in with the atmosphere of the Bay Area. Some baseball stadiums have music for individual home team players when they come up to the plate. There may not be the same opportunities for other sports though perhaps music could be introduced in situations when they make a reception or step up to the free throw line or at other points.

Of course, perhaps this is just good business: don’t alienate your fan base that can afford to go to NBA basketball games. Change up the music too much or make it too edgy