Wave (audience)

"Mexican Wave" redirects here. For the song, see Mexican Wave (song).
Stadium crowd performing "the wave" at the Confederations Cup 2005 in Frankfurt
Australia vs Ireland international rules game 2014 at Subiaco Oval crowd wave

The wave (known as the Mexican wave in the anglosphere outside North America) is an example of metachronal rhythm achieved in a packed stadium when successive groups of spectators briefly stand, yell, and raise their arms. Immediately upon stretching to full height, the spectator returns to the usual seated position.

The result is a wave of standing spectators that travels through the crowd, even though individual spectators never move away from their seats. 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, although simultaneous, counter-rotating waves have been produced.[1]

Origins and variations


While there is general disagreement about the precise origin of the wave, most stories of the phenomenon's origin suggest that the wave first started appearing at North American sporting events during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Krazy George Henderson perfected the wave at National Hockey League games, followed later by the earliest available video documentation of a wave, which he led on October 15, 1981 at a Major League Baseball game in Oakland, California.[2][3][4][5][6][7] This wave was broadcast on TV, and George has used a videotape of the event to bolster his claim as the inventor of the wave.[2][3] On October 31, 1981, a wave was created at a UW football game in Seattle, and the cheer continued to appear during the rest of that year's football season.[5] Although the people who created the first wave in Seattle have acknowledged Krazy George's wave at a baseball stadium, they claimed to have popularized the phenomenon.

Krazy George believes that the wave originally was inspired by accident when he was leading cheers at an Edmonton Oilers National Hockey League game at 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 Northlands Coliseum of its own accord.[8] In The Game of Our Lives, a 1981 book about the Oilers' 1980-81 season, journalist Peter Gzowski described this routine, which didn’t yet have a name but was already a standard in Krazy George’s repertoire: “He will start a cheer in one corner and then roll it around the arena, with each section rising from its seat as it yells.”[2]

University of Washington

Robb Weller, a cheerleader at the University of Washington from 1968 to 1972 and later Entertainment Tonight co-host, indicated in September 1984 that the school's early 1970s cheerleading squad developed a version of the wave that went from the bottom to top, instead of side to side, as a result of difficulties in getting the generally inebriated college audience members to timely raise and lower cards: "Actually ...there were two Waves. I was a cheerleader at the University of Washington from 1968 to 1972 when we started the first Wave. We tried to have card tricks but the kids would imbibe too much and the card tricks would get all goofed up; then we'd try card tricks with the kids using their bodies as cards and that wouldn't work. Finally we tried a Wave in the student section and it caught on but that Wave was different from this Wave. It would go from the bottom to top instead of side to side."[9] The first wave at the University of Washington's Husky Stadium occurred on October 31, 1981,[10][11] at the prompting of Dave Hunter (Husky band trumpet player) and the visiting alumni cheerleader Robb Weller.[12]

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,[13] "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 in Detroit. The Tigers won the World Series that year and appeared on many televised games throughout 1984, so people all over America saw it.

Monterrey, Mexico

The wave was done in Monterrey, Mexico, during a football match between Mexico and Argentina. During half time, the players were taking longer than expected to return to the field, the crowd grew anxious, and the organizers were trying to entertain the crowd and throwing match balls as presents. People were getting more and more creative with their cheer, and thus created "la ola" (the wave), which after a few attempts made its way all the way around the stadium.

In Mexico, the Mexican wave was popularized through a show called Siempre en domingo (always on Sunday) by Raul Velazco.

Global broadcasts

The wave was broadcast internationally during the 1984 Olympic football final between Brazil and France on August 11, when it was done among the 100,000 in attendance at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena.[14]

The 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico was broadcast to a global audience, and the wave was popularized world-wide after featuring during the tournament.[15][16] The finals in Mexico was the first time that many people living outside North America had seen the phenomenon. As a result, English speakers outside of North America call it the "Mexican wave."[15][16] In Germany, Italy, and other countries the wave is called "la ola" (or simply ola) from the Spanish word for "wave",[17] while in Portuguese-speaking countries, such as Brazil, it is alternatively translated to a onda, more commonly [o] ondão (augmentative) or simply onda, but a ola is also used.

Current appearances

Today, the wave is often seen during FIFA World Cup events when the spectators want to show appreciation for the match or during a lull in the action on the sports field to amuse themselves. There is some controversy as to when the wave is appropriate to perform during a sporting event.[18] Many fans feel that the wave should not be performed in important situations during the game.

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.[19] 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.[20] (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 Mexican Wave was banned large sections of the Members participated in the protest waves). Such a feature is also observed at Lord's, where the Members in the pavilion rarely participate, to the boos of the crowd.


In 2002, Tamás Vicsek of the Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary along with his colleagues analyzed videos of 14 waves at large Mexican football stadiums, developing a standard model of wave behavior (published in 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 12 m/s (40 ft/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.[21]

Size records

During the 2010 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear about 210,000 people participated in a wave led by MythBusters hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage.[22]

In animals

Honey bee species with open combs (e.g., Apis dorsata) warn would-be predators with a signal that takes the form of a Mexican wave that spreads as a ripple across a layer of bees densely packed on the surface of the comb when a threat is perceived, and consists of bees momentarily arching their bodies and flicking their wings.[23]


Wikimedia Commons has media related to The wave.
  1. Geoff. "The Hoover Street Rag: How To Do the Wave at Michigan Stadium". hooverstreetrag.blogspot.com.
  2. 1 2 3 Hingston, Michael (April 6, 2016). "Surf's Up: As the Edmonton Oilers leave their arena, few remember it was where sports fandom's greatest achievement—the Wave—was perfected". The Walrus. Retrieved April 13, 2016.
  3. 1 2 The First Wave - Documentation - A's Highlight Video - 1981
  4. Allen-Price, Olivia. "The Wave Was Born in Oakland, and Some Giants Fans Want It Dead". KQED News. KQED. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  5. 1 2 'Krazy' Inventor of the Wave Celebrates, JANIE McCAULEY, The Washington Post
  6. Somebody’s GOTTA Do It: Celebrating the Bay Area’s Under-appreciated Jobs, Jimmy Christopher, The Wave Magazine (retrieved 22 August 2010 at Internet Archive Wayback Machine)
  7. Penner, Mike (17 October 2006). "USC taps its inner Green Monster". Los Angeles Times.
  8. "On This Day: Krazy George Henderson Leads First Crowd Wave". Findingdulcinea.com. Retrieved 2010-06-09.
  9. Michael Madden (September 30, 1984), "Michael Madden From Sea to Shining Sea, the Wave of the Future is Now", Boston Globe
  10. "University of Washington - Official Athletic Site :: Traditions". Gohuskies.collegesports.com. 1981-10-31. Retrieved 2010-06-09.
  11. "The Purple Haze". Static.espn.go.com. Retrieved 2010-06-09.
  12. George Vescey (October 6, 1984), "Sports of the Times; Permanent Wave in Motown", New York Times, p. 121
  13. "Don't Take My Wave Away". The New York Times. 1984-07-08. p. Late City Final Edition, Section 5, Page 2, Column 5.
  14. José Touré: "It was at the Olympic Games that I realised I was an athlete" FIFA.com. Retrieved 25 August 2011
  15. 1 2 The 100 greatest World Cup moments: 94. THE MEXICAN WAVE The Independent. Retrieved 25 August 2011
  16. 1 2 Andy Jackson (Jun 11 2010) Fan Crazes Australian Four Four Two. Retrieved 25 August 2011
  17. "Mexican Wave secrets revealed". BBC News. 12 September 2002. Retrieved 2 December 2011.
  18. "Daily Nebraskan - Wave goodbye to stadium fad". Media.www.dailynebraskan.com. Retrieved 2010-06-09.
  19. "AM - Waugh set for last stand at MCG". Abc.net.au. 2003-12-26. Retrieved 2010-06-09.
  20. "Sports Factor - 14/09/01: Sports Sacred Sites". Ausport.gov.au. Retrieved 2010-06-09.
  21. I. Farkas; D. Helbing; T. Vicsek (12 September 2002). "Mexican waves in an excitable medium" (PDF). Nature. 419 (6903): 131–2. doi:10.1038/419131a. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 12226653. Retrieved 2007-02-10. Details of the research are at Mexican wave (La Ola) A quantitative analysis of the propagating human wave
  22. http://www.necn.com/news/new-england/_NECN___Mythbusters__Try_Giant_Wave_at_DC_Rally_NECN-247335371.html
  23. "Giant Honeybees Use Shimmering 'Mexican Waves' To Repel Predatory Wasps - ScienceDaily". sciencedaily.com.
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