The wave (British English: Mexican wave; also stadium wave), is achieved in a packed stadium when successive groups of spectators briefly stand and raise their arms. Each spectator is required to rise at the same time as those straight in front and behind, and slightly after the person immediately to either the right (for a clockwise wave) or the left (for a counterclockwise wave). Immediately upon stretching to full height, the spectator returns to the usual seated position.
The result is a "wave" of standing spectators that travels semi-rapidly through the crowd, even though individual spectators never move away from their seats (thus, the wave could be said to be a transverse wave, meaning following the longest path around the space, while each spectator involved has only a small role in the wave itself). In many large arenas the crowd is seated in a contiguous circuit all the way around the sport field, and so the wave is able to travel continuously around the arena; in discontiguous seating arrangements, the wave can instead reflect back and forth through the crowd. When the gap in seating is narrow, the wave can sometimes pass through it. Usually only one wave crest will be present at any given time in an arena. Simultaneous, counter-rotating waves have been produced.
The exact origin of the wave is disputed. Its growth may be traced to four different sports, across three different North American
countries. It may be said that it was created (by chance) at a National Hockey League
game in Canada
in 1980, was introduced to a wider audience (intentionally) in October 1981 at a Major League Baseball
game in Oakland
, California and/or at an American Football
game in Seattle
, Washington. Whatever its origin, by the mid 1980s the practice was widespread throughout North America. Finally, it gained world wide notice, and the specific name Mexican wave
, during the FIFA Football World Cup
in 1986. The wave was also believed to be created in Vancouver
, British Columbia
by a marketing campaign for the local soccer team the Vancouver Whitecaps
, in which they got the crowd to perform this for a commercial in which their slogan was "Catch the Wave."
Although it was not associated with sports, Frank Zappa
is credited by some with inventing a precursor to the wave in 1969 at the Denver Pop Festival
in Denver Mile High Stadium when he assigned sounds and gestures to sections of the crowd and sequenced them with hand gestures.
Bill the Beerman
Bill Scott, a Seattle bartender started selling beer to football crowds at Seattle's Kingdome in 1976. He loved selling beer and seeing people cheering and encouraged everyone to follow his cheers. He could be heard all over the Kingdome and would lead one side of the stadium and then the other in cheering contests. It was Bill the Beerman who created the Wave in the Kingdom in the 1970's. He was an icon at the Kingdome and was loved by the crowd. He also worked for the Seattle Sonics and the Seattle Mariners and eventually worked for the Portland Trailblazers, other CBA teams, NHL hockey teams and finally at Boise State University for their football games. Bill died on March 25, 2007 and was 58 years old.
It first gained popularity in the United States in the early 1980s. Some claim that the first appearance of the wave was a section by section cheer at a Major League Baseball game that was led by professional cheerleader Krazy George Henderson
in Oakland, California
on October 15
, in an American League Championship Series
game between the Oakland Athletics
and the New York Yankees
Krazy George believes that the wave originally was inspired by accident when he was leading cheers at a National Hockey League game at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His routine was to have one side of the arena jump and cheer, then have the opposite side respond. One night in late 1980, there was a delayed response from one section of fans, leading to them jumping to their feet a few seconds later than the section beside them. The next section of fans followed suit, and the first wave circled the Northlands Coliseum of its own accord. Krazy George then perfected the method for initiating a wave cheer with the Edmonton fans, and carried the wave with him to other venues, culminating with the aforementioned televised Major League Baseball game. Krazy George has been quoted as saying "If you don't believe me, ask (former) Edmonton Oilers superstar Wayne Gretzky. He was there."
University of Washington
Many claim that the first wave originated in Seattle
at the University of Washington
's Husky Stadium
on October 31
, at the prompting of Dave Hunter and Robb Weller
(later Entertainment Tonight
co-host, and then a television producer). Weller, a Washington graduate, was the guest yell-king during the Huskies' homecoming football game against the Stanford University Cardinal (led by junior quarterback John Elway
). Weller's initial concept for the wave was for it to travel vertically, from the bottom of the stands to the top, within the UW student section. Weller claimed to have done this at games when he was yell king. When that was met with limited interest, Weller then came up with the idea to move the wave from top to bottom. This failed miserably, as it was necessary to turn backward to see the wave progressing downward. Weller then gave up and returned his attention to the game. However, some fans toward the open (East) end of the stadium on the student side started yelling "sideways". Weller did not hear them, but the students tried to initiate a "sideways" wave on their own. After a few attempts, and more yelling of "sideways" by students, Weller took notice. He instructed the crowd to stand as he ran past. He moved along the track toward the open end of the stadium, explaining to the student crowd what he would do, then ran along the track toward the closed end of the stadium, in front of the student section. After a couple of tries, this caught on, and continued around the entire Husky Stadium, and was repeated throughout the rest of the game and the season. Longtime UW band director Bill Bissell also claimed co-creator credit with Weller, suggesting that the wave was devised by both of them prior to the game. The following week, the wave appeared at Seattle Seahawks
professional football games in the Kingdome
and has been a staple of Seattle sports ever since.
University of Michigan
In the early fall of 1983, the Michigan Wolverines
played the Huskies in Seattle and brought the wave back to Michigan Stadium
in Ann Arbor
. A letter to the sports editor of The New York Times
claimed,"There are three reasons why the wave caught on at Michigan Wolverine games: It gave the fans something to do when the team was leading its opponent by 40 points, it was thrilling and exciting to see 105,000 people in the stands moving and cheering, and Bo Schembechler
asked us not to do it. The fans responded to his request by doing more waves, including 'Silent Waves' (standing and waving arms without cheering), 'Shsh Waves' (replacing the cheering with a 'shshing' sound), the "Fast Wave," the "Slow Wave," and two simultaneous waves traveling in opposite directions. The following spring, fans who had enjoyed the wave in Ann Arbor introduced it to the nearby Tiger Stadium
. The Tigers
won the World Series that year
and appeared on many televised games throughout 1984, so people all over America saw it.
The 1984 Rose Bowl
was broadcast outside North America on January 2
, introducing other countries to the wave as UCLA
fans kept it going around the Rose Bowl Stadium
A larger international audience witnessed it during the 1984 Olympic football semifinal between Brazil and Italy on August 8 at the Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California. A huge crowd of over 80,000 people participated in making several multiple and sometimes opposing running waves.
The wave was later on display at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. For many people living outside of North America, this was the first time they ever saw the phenomenon, and it was dubbed the "Mexican wave". In Brazil, Germany, Italy, and other countries the wave is called "la ola" (or simply ola) from the Spanish word for "wave".
Today, the wave is generally seen during a lull in the action on the sports field, as spectators seek to amuse themselves to fend off boredom. There is some controversy as to when the wave is appropriate to perform during a sporting event. Some feel that the wave can be performed at any time, and is often done so for either entertaining the audience or distracting the opponent. Others feel the wave is only appropriate when the home team has a sizable lead such that the opponent has little or no chance of winning. Still others feel the wave is always disrespectful to the home team athletes and should never be performed.
In Melbourne, Australia, waves commonly travel in a counterclockwise direction. Prior to the redevelopment of the Melbourne Cricket Ground between 2002 and 2006, spectators seated in the Members' Stand (reserved for members of the Melbourne Cricket Club) would not participate in a Mexican wave, and would be booed by other spectators at the ground, before the wave would resume on the other side of the stand. Sociologist John Carroll described the practice of "booing the Members" as dismissive of any claim to authority or superior social status on the members' part, although good-natured and based on the egalitarian nature of watching sports. (As a postscript to the "booing the Members" phenomenon, even when the Members stand was closed due to the reconstruction work, the crowd would still boo, despite the Members' stand being completely empty. When The Wave was banned large sections of the Members participated in the protest waves.)
In 2002, Tamás Vicsek of the Eötvös Loránd University
along with his colleagues analyzed videos of 14 waves at large Mexican football stadiums, developing a standard model of wave behavior (published in the September 12
issue of Nature
). He found that it takes only the actions of a few dozen fans to trigger a wave. Once started, it usually rolls in a clockwise
direction at a rate of about 40 ft/s (12 m/s), or about 22 seats per second. At any given time the wave is about 15 seats wide. These observations appear to be applicable across different cultures and sports, though details vary in individual cases.
At the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sharpie 500
, held at Bristol Motor Speedway
, Bristol, Tennessee
on August 23
, 168,000 people performed the wave to set a new Guinness World Record
At the 1986 Indianapolis 500, spectators performed a massive wave around nearly half the 2.5-mile oval, which holds approximately 250,000 seats.
At the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 where 110,000 people made an inverse wave and two simultaneous opposite direction waves.
The wave makes regular appearances at University of Michigan football games. The team hosted 6 games in 2005 with more than 110,000 in attendance - the largest crowd being 111,591. The procedure at Michigan games generally follows a pattern (led by the student section) of sending the wave around counter-clockwise twice, then once in slow-motion, then once at double the original speed, then once around clockwise, and finally, splitting it into two counter-rotational waves. A similar pattern is traditionally used at University of Wisconsin football games.
has banned the wave from all international grounds due to objects being, either unintentionally or deliberately, thrown into the air at the same time. These include plastic cups containing beer
, hot food items, or even urine
, which affects the other spectators around the person who threw it. Anyone who attempts to start a wave will be ejected from the ground. The banning of the Mexican Wave has been met with a mostly negative response from Australia's sports-going public, especially in Melbourne as the result of the much higher popularity of the wave at the Melbourne Cricket Ground
(MCG). This charge has been led by Matthew Newton, 22, of Springvale
, who was one of the first to suffer eviction while promoting his "Save the Mexican Wave" campaign. While gaining large amounts of attention within the Australian media
, it did not affect the position of Cricket Australia.
While the banning has been effective in reducing the number of items thrown in the air during a wave, it has done little to actually stop the wave occurring at the MCG and has seen an emergence of obvious opposition to the ban (as well as an increase in frequency and intensity of waves at the MCG). In a direct show of contempt for the banning of the wave, many of the spectators sitting in the Great Southern Stand during the boxing day test would chant 'You, can't, stop the wave, you can't stop the wave', most of these chants being directed at police officers and security guards.