Why Are We Delighted to be on the Jumbotron?

This past Satuday I went to the Canucks game–my first game in a couple of years. North American sports arenas are, of course, obsessed with distracting you at every stoppage in play. One common tactic is to show people in the crowd on the Jumbotron (or whatever it’s called–the giant cube of screens in the middle of the arena).

Most people, when they recognize themselves on the Jumbotron, seem utterly delighted to be shown to 20,000 other people. I’d say that the ratio of delight to embarrassment was 90% to 10%.

I started wondering about why this was. Surely if you asked those delighted people to give, say, a three-minute speech in front of 50 people many of them would be terrified. And yet they’re pleased to dance, flash the devil horns or otherwise act zaney for 20,000. Why is this?

One side note on this: I’ve got a friend who fears that she won’t recognize herself should she be shown on the Jumbotron. She routinely makes a subtle, peculiar hand gesture as the camera pans the crowd in order to spot herself.


  1. It’s a regular person’s chance to be a “star” for a few seconds. 20 000 people in a room and only a dozen are chosen? That’s fun and good times.

    We had a #dadcamp at a Giants game in december and they showed a bunch of us on the screen.


    Even though I’ve made a career out of being on radio and tv, I still found the 5 seconds of screen time for son totally thrilling.

    It is what it is: a good time.

  2. I don’t have an answer to your question, but just wanted to add how it makes me feel.

    I have no problem getting in front of a large crowd and talking to them about something (given I know the subject well). However, when I’m at a pro sports game, which is quite often, I am actually afraid of the Jumbo, and find myself in that 10% embarrassed crowd. I bet the people who enjoy the on screen attention are the ones that would shudder at the thought of having to give a speech. Weird!

    1. I think that’s it. If you’re supposed to give a speech, you need to be prepared, and you’re supposed to come across as if you know what you’re doing.

      Whereas with 20 seconds on the Jumbotron, you can simply act like a semi-anonymous fool and have it be over with, and there are no consequences.

      It’s the same reason people who would be nervous being interviewed by a TV crew are happy to make stupid faces in the background instead.

      Incidentally, as someone who has spent 20 years making a fool of myself onstage professionally, that’s actually harder to do well than you would think.

  3. Haha, that’s a funny question. I think partly it is because when people go to a hockey game they know that probably their friends and family are watching at home keeping an eye out for them 🙂

    The other, is that when you’re on the Jumbotron you’re not actually expected to say anything, and no one knows your name. So you get to have attention without all the negative effects of giving a speech 🙂 In my opinion 😉

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