Live Sports Intro Themes
Speaking in a very broad sense, most kids fall into one of two distinct categories growing up: Sports Kids and Music Kids. The Venn Diagram of this distinction for all American 12-year-olds might look something like this:
As you get older, that middle sliver widens. Kids make realizations, like the fact that they’re good at drums and football, or that it’s actually cool to be able to play the piano, or that crushing someone into the boards is more fun than bleating out six notes on a sousaphone.
If you stretch that mass generalization out to its logical endpoint, you get the interconnectivity between the sports world and the music world that we have in today’s society. Every great sports movie has a memorable soundtrack, hundreds of musicians are celebrity fans/emcees/head cheerleaders/actual owners of sports franchises, and of course, every live sports broadcast has its specific and (hopefully) memorable intro music.
As we know, some of these are better than others. So let’s get to the rankings, shall we?
- These do not have to be currently on the air.
- This is a subjective ranking, but it’s correct. Puzzle that out if you wish.
- I’m 25, so these are all fairly recent.
- We will be grading on a scale of one to ten “Chariots of Fire.”
From worst to first
NHL on NBC
What comes to mind: Dark Wednesday evenings in Buffalo. Doc Emrick screaming “A SHOOOOOOT” every time there is, in fact, a shot.
Is it memorable? No. There’s nothing special here, no memorable hook that instantly draws you in.
Does it convey the right emotion? Absolutely not. Hockey is probably the second-best sport to watch on TV, and playoff hockey might be the best. This song sounds like you’re gearing up to take out the garbage.
Sunday Night Football
What comes to mind: Cold, dark, rainy nights in Pittsburgh. Al and Chris. The fact that I’ve just seen Carrie Underwood.
Is it memorable? Not in the least. It’s basically background music for the sweet sound of Al Michaels’s voice.
Does it convey the right emotion? It sort of doesn’t really convey any emotion, actually. It kind of sounds like the beginning of a Memorial Day parade.
NFL on CBS
What comes to mind: Sunny, cold fall afternoons at my house in New England. Usually watching shots of sunny, warm fall afternoons in Miami, where the Patriots have had trouble at times. For this reason, this song makes me nervous.
Is it memorable? Not really. As soon as I played it, I could remember it, but it’s not one of those that sticks in your head or is instantly recognizable from a few notes.
Does it convey the right emotion? Strangely, yes. Mainly because it makes me think of regular season games against AFC teams, and those games are almost always cake for the Pats (other than Miami). The music just kind of slogs along in a positive manner, as the Patriots do in the regular season.
MLB on FOX
What comes to mind: The World’s Series. Joe Buck’s big dumb face. The National League.
Is it memorable? Not especially. The “bada bada baDAdadaaa” running through it is somewhat interesting, but not particularly. This feels like the composer jotted it down on a Sunday morning before going to a crepe swap, or whatever composers do on Sundays.
Does it convey the right emotion? I guess? I usually only hear this song during the playoffs, and it’s pretty upbeat and self-important, like every playoff team feels before facing Madison Bumgarner.
NFL on FOX
What comes to mind: Thanksgiving. NFC North. JB, Terry, Howie, and Chris.
Is it memorable? Oh, yes. I put this through my headphones in the office at 3:45 on a Thursday and my face absolutely lit up. Pavlov’s dog type stuff.
Does it convey the right emotion? Yup. The first three seconds are arresting, and the bouncy “badabup badabup badabup ba baaaaa” is perfect for long pan shots of the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field.
NHL on ESPN
What comes to mind: For some reason this reminds me of NHL Hitz. I feel like I was bashing people through the glass and scoring solely on one-timers at the same time that this theme was crashing through living rooms. Also Barry Melrose’s sweet salad.
Is it memorable? Mostly. It’s not the most hummable of songs, but it’s pretty unique among the themes here due to its underpinning darkness.
Does it convey the right emotion? Absolutely. It’s kind of dark and ominous with overtones of glory. If I coached a high-school hockey team, we would absolutely do those first few laps around our end to this song.
Monday Night Football
What comes to mind: The glare of the Denver floodlights on Peyton Manning’s mainsail of a forehead. Chris Berman. These guys.
Is it memorable? Yes. Without question one of the top three most memorable intro themes. So memorable that it’s kind of played out, actually.
Does it convey the right emotion? Less so than it used to. This is all personal opinion, but it seems to me that Monday Night Football has become appointment television only for fantasy owners of the players involved. The mystique of the NFL on a non-Sunday has been diluted with Thursday night and Saturday offerings, and the bombastic opening of the MNF theme doesn’t hold the sway it once did.
NBA on NBC
What comes to mind: Christmas at my grandparents’ house. Nelly. Those old amazing Phoenix Suns jerseys.
Is it memorable? Nelly didn’t not make a song out of it, so… yeah, it’s pretty memorable.
Does it convey the right emotion? Absolutely. This was back when the NBA was actually fun — hand-checking was fine, fighting was relatively normal, and superstars wanted to play against each other instead of teaming up like some kind of bizarro world Avengers. The song hits that right on the head with the driving beat and staccato horn hits.
What comes to mind: Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit. Alabama’s old-school helmets. Boise State.
Is it memorable? Absolutely. The first seven seconds of this song are SUCH an earworm for me. I’ll hear it once in passing and be humming “DUMMMMMMM dummm, badadummm badadumm dumm” for the rest of the day.
Does it convey the right emotion? Yes. I can just imagine sweeping views of the legions of tailgaters ringing the Rose Bowl to the strains of this tune.
March Madness on CBS
What comes to mind: Floodlights in semi-backwater cities where dreams are realized and legends are forged. This theme means that you’re on your couch (or in class, or at work) and you’re glued to the action of two teams that you wouldn’t care about whatsoever outside of these three weeks in March. For my money, the greatest tournament in sports. Nostalgia combined with schoolboy levels of excitement.
Is it memorable? Yes and no. Yes, in that as soon as you hear it, you know what sport it’s attached to. No, in that if someone asked you to reproduce it, it might be tough. It doesn’t have one of those classic four or five note intros that set themes apart like Monday Night Football or NBA on NBC.
Does it convey the right emotion? Um, I dunno. Listen to it and tell me what kind of tingles you get. Mine are spine tingles.
What comes to mind: Soaring pines. Rolling fairways. Lush green, with splashes of bright magenta as the azeleas bloom. Jim Nantz’s timeless “Hello, friends.”
Is it memorable? Somewhat. Similar to the March Madness theme, the Masters theme is extremely unique, but not very hummable. And hummability is key.
Does it convey the right emotion? More than any of these other themes, yes. George R.R. Martin can’t deliver us a dream of spring, but this song can.
What comes to mind: Events that you’ve never heard of but instantly become obsessed with. Bob Costas sitting at a shiny desk in a foreign country. Torches.
Is it memorable? Yes, incredibly so. If you asked someone to sing the Olympics music, they might not know it at first because it only comes around every two years, but if you went… “baaaaaah, baaaaah, bada bah bah” they’d be like “Ohhh yup yup yup.”
Does it convey the right emotion? Yes. The booming drums set the stage, and the first few notes burrow into your subconscious to call forth your national pride from the dormant state it’s been in since the last World Cup. And John Williams did it. Who am I to argue with John Williams?
MLB on ESPN
What comes to mind: The Cardinals. The Cubs. Jon. Fucking. Miller. (And Joe Morgan). Sunday Night Baseball. For my money, Jon Miller has one of the best announcing voices of all time. Just such a great combination of clear, clipped phrasing and that kind of stuffy-nosed whiskey tone that makes you want to go fishing with the guy. This song is summer.
Is it memorable? Yes. This is one of about four songs on this list that I can reproduce from memory at a moment’s notice.
Does it convey the right emotion? Yes. It’s happy and upbeat, like everyone should be during a summer’s eve. And it also doesn’t take itself too seriously. Heck, this clip’s only 30 seconds. Leaving the audience wanting more is always the best policy.