Sports Fans do the Wave in Stadiums – photo by Florian KCredit: photo by Florian K

Sports fans as a group are one of the most interesting groups to analyze; but it isn’t just the sports fans who initiate the wave during an event.  Anytime there is a huge event in a stadium, arena, or any large facility, there is the possibility a wave will occur.  Who started this expression of fandom?  

Known as the Mexican Wave outside of North America, the wave is implemented when successive groups of spectators stand, yell and raise their arms, then immediately return to their seats—in an almost “jack-in-the-box” motion.  The result is a wave of standing people which travels through the crowd without anyone leaving their seat area.  

The Beginning of the Wave Phenomenon 

There are arguments about when and who started the first wave; that it started in the late 1970s, early 1980s is not in dispute.   Sports fans in Canada claim they created the wave during the 1976 Montreal Olympics as well as National Hockey League (NHL) games held in Canada for use in a commercial.   

Others claim the wave was actually started by a professional cheerleader, Krazy George Henderson during a Major League Baseball game in Oakland, California on October 15, 1981. The game was televised and George used a videotape of the game, and subsequently the wave, to support his claim as the inventor of the action. Krazy George believes it came about quite by accident when he was leading cheers at a NHL game at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton, Alberta. He then perfected the cheer with the Edmonton fans and afterwards used it during other venues.  

During a college football game on October 31, 1981, the fans of the University of Washington created the cheer at their Seattle stadium and it appeared throughout the remainder of the football season.  The fans acknowledged Krazy George’s wave at the baseball game, but claimed it was only a one-time event and they were the ones who popularized the practice.  Those claiming credit for the wave at the UV football game were Dave Hunter, the Husky band trumpet player, and Robb Weller.  Tolly Allen also claimed credit for the Husky cheer stating its initial concept was for the wave to go from bottom to top of the student section, but when it failed he tried top to bottom.  That also failed, but some fans including Dave Hunter, Lee Eckmann and Bob Erickson started yelling “sideways.”   At first Weller didn’t notice, but when he finally did, he guided the fans with the help of the Husky cheerleaders until it finally caught on and continued around the entire stadium seating. 

The UW band director, Bill Bissell claimed he and Weller created the idea of the wave prior to the game. A week after the Husky football game, the wave appeared in the stadium of the Seattle Seahawks.  Though the origin of the wave is sketchy, Seattle was the first place to routinely perform it in their stadiums.  

In 1983 when the Michigan Wolverines played the Huskies in Seattle, they witnessed the wave and took it back to Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.  Sports fans there did silent waves, fast waves, slow waves and two simultaneous waves traveling in opposite directions around the stadium.  The following spring, fans introduced it to Tiger Stadium in Detroit.  Throughout 1984 many of the Tigers’ games were televised, so people across America saw the wave.  

The Wave Rolls in Stadiums Worldwide 

Other countries were introduced to the wave when the 1984 Rose Bowl was broadcast outside of North America and the sports fans of UCLA and Illinois kept it going around the stadium.  It was also broadcasted internationally during the 1984 Olympic Football final between France and Brazil.  

The wave gained further international recognition when it was performed during the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico.  This was the first time many people outside of North America witnessed the phenomenon and thus it became known as the “Mexican wave.”  In some countries such as Italy and Germany, it is called “ola” from the Spanish word for “wave.” 

Currently the wave is done not just as appreciation for a team’s play, but also as self-entertainment during lulls in action.  While some sports fans believe there are appropriate times for the wave, others believe it can be performed at any time.  In 2002, Tamás Vicsek of the Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary and his colleagues found it only takes a few dozen fans to initiate a wave; it usually travels clockwise; travels about 22 seats per second; and at any given time is about 15 stadium seats wide.   Their observations appeared to be applicable across different sports and cultures.  

Much to the chagrin of the Australian sports fans, Cricket Australia has banned the wave from all international grounds because objects were being thrown into the air during the wave creating problems within the spectators group.  Anyone who attempts to start a wave is ejected from the grounds.  

Records for the wave in stadiums include a record set at t the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sharpie 500, held at Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, Tennessee on August 23, 2008 during which 168,000 people performed the wave.  There's no denying the wave is a fun thing to do during the "down" times of a sporting event.  It looks pretty awesome too.



  1. ‘Krazy’Inventor of the Wave Celebrates. (accessed February 9, 2013)
  2. (accessed February 9, 2013)
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