When Ivy Awino, known around the American Airlines Center in Dallas as DJ Poizon Ivy, plays music for the 19,000-plus Mavericks fans in attendance, she understands the assignment. Every track must be timed perfectly to create a memory.
There’s no room for error, as she considers herself “the ultimate conductor” while on the clock. The arena’s her show. And every great DJ will co-sign; when playing music, you can heighten a fan’s experience or sully it.
“If you get it right, you’ll know it and feel it. It’s a very empowering feeling,” said Awino, the Mavericks’ in-arena host who also has held the title of sound director and music coordinator for the team. “A perfectly placed track is undeniable. You’ll get goose bumps if you do it right. You can anticipate it all you want, but it has to hit perfectly.”
For decades, the right song has stimulated sports fan bases globally. A sporting event can tell multiple stories. The athletes and the plays made in the venues can make for excellent stories for years.
Without music, however, there’s a missing ingredient. One that Awino knows is a must to complete the fan experience.
“It’s the icing on the cake. It’s the thread that pulls everything together,” she said. “It’s something that can be perceived by anyone, no matter the age, nationality, whatever. It’s universal. It’s a feeling. No matter where you go in the world, people can relate to a good song.”
We at The Athletic appreciate a great track and decided to poll our team members on which songs moved the needle for them at sporting events. The poll, featuring more than 80 votes from those in their 20s to 60s, covers songs from the past 50 years. Below, you will find the winners of each category (from 1972 to 2022), with the voting percentages in parentheses. You also will find five honorable mention selections at the end of each decade.
All songs were placed in categories by their release year. And because there are still so many tracks played today from the 1960s and beyond, we’ve included a special category dubbed “Pre-1972.”
Enjoy this musical ride, sports fans. Feel free to add your favorite sporting-event song in the comments section.
“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond (32.5 percent)
There are plenty of songs to choose from, but this is a fixture at sporting events across the world. Whether it’s soccer, baseball or college football, folks get a kick out of singing along to this one. Diamond, who is battling Parkinson’s disease, turned in a recent stirring edition on Broadway.
“Superstition” by Stevie Wonder (36.4 percent)
The legendary Stevie Wonder could have songs up and down this list. It’s hard to believe this song is 50 years old, considering it still receives a ton of play at several sports arenas.
“Takin’ Care of Business” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive (68.4 percent)
One of the most popular songs comes from Canadian-based band BTO. The Mets and Braves are among the teams that have made this a theme song at some point. A fitting song after a victory.
“Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd (47.6 percent)
The perfect song when the Alabama Crimson Tide roll to victory, but it’s also popular with those who don’t yell “Roll Tide.” When that guitar intro plays, there are a ton of happy fans in sporting arenas worldwide.
“Rock and Roll All Nite” by Kiss (29.6 percent)
A classic sports jam that gets the stadium going. It’s a great way to punctuate a big strikeout or clinch a playoff win. Anything with an all-night partying theme has to be in the mix at a game.
“The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy (38.3 percent)
Brought to us by an Irish rock band, it’s a song you’ll hear at games and used as a theme in movies, too. The ultimate “we are back to win” kind of song, you might catch a fan and a buddy playing air guitar together, as the song is all about twin guitar action.
“We Will Rock You” by Queen (45.1 percent)
This is the year of Queen in sports with two songs. Even if you don’t know the lyrics, you know the “boom, boom, clap” beat that reaches across genres. “You got mud on your face, you big disgrace” seems like it was written for a football game.
“Y.M.C.A.” by Village People (57.3 percent)
Need a way to involve fans during a stoppage of play? This is the go-to jam. Who cares what the song is about when you’re ready to use your arms to spell out Y.M.C.A.? Everyone gets down with that.
“Highway to Hell” by AC/DC (29.3 percent)
AC/DC has several songs that fit this list. This is also around the time when the dominance of rock anthems started to give way to some more soulful and disco songs. But this one is a classic.
1970s honorable mention list
• “We Are the Champions” by Queen (1977)
• “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen (1975)
• “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge (1979)
• “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti (1976)
• “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor (1978)
“Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne (28 percent)
As good as this song is, this could be a slight upset considering the competition. You had a one-two punch by AC/DC in “Hells Bells” and “You Shook Me All Night Long.” But Ozzy’s iconic track is far from a bad choice.
“Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey (36.6 percent)
There were some good tracks to choose from in 1981: The Sugarhill Gang’s “Apache.” Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony.” The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up.” But singing about a “city boy born and raised in South Detroit” was good enough to take top honors.
“Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor (58.5 percent)
The movie “Rocky III” helped this song’s popularity. It’s a track that has motivated a few sports teams at home the same way it helped Rocky Balboa reclaim the heavyweight title against Clubber Lang.
(Tie) “Cum On Feel the Noize” by Quiet Riot and “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics (24.7 percent)
In a rare tie, two songs with different sets of energy topped our poll. Though Quiet Riot delivered a harder sound for metal heads, Eurythmics gave fans more of the smoother, new wave sound from the U.K.
“Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince (42 percent)
Who doesn’t like Prince? Not our voters, and definitely not the sports-arena crowds throughout the world. This track is perfect for a mid-game run that pumps up the crowd and frustrates the visiting team.
“Take On Me” by A-ha (34.6 percent)
Is it the high note of this song that attracts fans? Or maybe it’s the mission of trying to hit that high note regardless of a voice octave. Whatever the case, this song beat out some decent competition. Side note: Cool video, too.
“Livin’ On a Prayer” by Bon Jovi (24.7 percent)
All you need from this song is the chorus for sports purposes, and it’s easily recognizable. Bon Jovi won for a year that also included “Walk This Way” by Run-DMC and “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins.
“Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses (70 percent)
One of the easiest choices in this poll. The band was as hot as any in the world at the time. The opening guitar riff is iconic. It’s been used in movies and video games. It’s the soundtrack to chaos.
“It Takes Two” by DJ Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock (31.6 percent)
Here comes hip-hop! The genre was still considered a fad by the mainstream at this point, but this song is undeniable. Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” and Poison’s “Nothin’ But a Good Time” also were contenders in a competitive year.
“Pump Up the Jam” by Technotronic (35.4 percent)
This was Technotronic’s biggest hit by a big margin. It was an international hit with techno/hip-hop vibes and can be blasted before games to get fans going. It even fits well on a workout playlist, if you’re so inclined.
1980s honorable mention list
• “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen (1980)
• “The Final Countdown” by Europe (1986)
• “Wild Thing” by Tone-Loc (1988)
• “Bust a Move” by Young MC (1989)
• “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins (1981)
“Thunderstruck” by AC/DC (46.9 percent)
You can tell the guitarist had a field day when AC/DC cooked this one up in the studio. And then you watch the video with the close-up of him playing — that just makes the entire thing so much better. The intro to this song is iconic.
“Enter Sandman” by Metallica (60.8 percent)
Those who aren’t rock fans can sing the lyrics and/or bob their heads to this track. When you’re asking yourself whether the lead singer, guitarist or drummer is the best in the song and all three could be correct, you have a winner.
“Jump Around” by House of Pain (67.9 percent)
The pre-eminent song of basketball games. It’s pretty big at Wisconsin Badger football games, too. An iconic intro. Being told to get out of your seat and literally jump around. It’s a perfect song for sports — and 30 years later, this bad boy is still going strong.
“Whoomp! There It Is” by Tag Team (43.2 percent)
“Tag Team, back again!” Here’s a track that got everybody hyped at sporting events worldwide and also reached multiplatinum status. It was so good and so catchy that Geico decided to bring it back in 2020 and give it an ice cream remix.
“Sabotage” by Beastie Boys (35 percent)
A lover of all musical backgrounds can appreciate this song, as it features guitar riffs, solid drum play, turntable scratching, a buildup midway through the track and easy-to-remember vocals. It has a little bit of everything.
“This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan (33.3 percent)
It’s hard not to give a nod to any song talking about it being Friday night and feeling all right. No matter where you are, when the DJ slides on this track, it puts nearly anyone in earshot in a fantastic mood.
“Let Me Clear My Throat” by DJ Kool, Doug E. Fresh and Biz Markie (35 percent)
A great beat for a song that’s easy to follow along with. It also has a stand-out verse most people will know. DJ Kool provided a track with all the right components for a presentation made fittingly for sporting events.
“Song 2” by Blur (40 percent)
The “woo-hoo!” is obviously the most recognizable part of this song for most sports fans. This one gets a ton of play during dead balls, TV timeouts and when not a lot is happening during a game.
“Intergalactic” by Beastie Boys (29.3 percent)
There were a lot of really good sporting-event bangers in 1998. Lenny Kravitz had “Fly Away.” Fatboy Slim had “The Rockafeller Skank.” (Most just called that track “The Funk Soul Brother.”) Alas, the Beastie Boys emerged as the winner.
“All Star” by Smash Mouth (32.1 percent)
Shoutout to the movie “Shrek” for helping to make this song super hot. It’s a feel-good song that’s easy to sing along with, and it’s always going to be well received. This track continues to stand the test of time.
1990s honorable mention list
• “Sandstorm” by Darude (1999)
• “ESPN Presents The Jock Jam” by Various Artists (1997)
• “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana (1991)
• “Hip Hop Hooray” by Naughty By Nature (1993)
• “Cotton Eye Joe” by Rednex (1995)
“Who Let the Dogs Out” by Baha Men (34.1 percent)
This song was made popular by “Rugrats in Paris: The Movie.” Children love it, adults love it, and it gets a lot of play at sporting events worldwide. It’s a true crowd-pleaser, if ever there was one.
“Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk (30.3 percent)
This is self-explanatory. Every coach wants their team to play harder, better, faster and stronger than the competition. Even a team that is severely overmatched can find success if it embodies those ideals.
“Lose Yourself” by Eminem (55.6 percent)
How can anyone listen to this song and not get hyped up? The entire premise is about an underdog showing up and taking advantage of the moment, which is one of the things people love most about sports.
“Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes (57.8 percent)
Whether it’s fans breaking out the beat of this song in one massive chant or bands trying their hand at it, you’re likely to hear “Seven Nation Army” at least once at any game you attend. This is one of the best songs played during a sporting event.
“Yeah!” by Usher feat. Lil Jon and Ludacris (54.9 percent)
If ever there was a song to automatically get you on your feet, make you want to dance or put you in a good mood, this is it. Whether it’s the actual track or just the instrumental being played, this absolutely gets people going.
“Lose Control” by Missy Elliott feat. Ciara and Fatman Scoop (36.3 percent)
This is an excellent song for when a sports team inevitably breaks out the dancing portion of its entertainment or the cheerleaders take center stage. The verse “music makes you lose control” tells the story.
“Chelsea Dagger” by The Fratellis (29.1 percent)
This song will get large groups to sing on beat at the same time (because the most famous part isn’t actual words). Just ask Chicago Blackhawks fans. It also serves as a good bar song.
“Crank That” by Soulja Boy (35.4 percent)
This is the song of dreams for those who like to run to the fan cam. It gets the people moving, especially those who are competitive and want to out-dance others at the venue. It’s amazing that this song is 15 years old.
“A Milli” by Lil Wayne (31.6 percent)
“A Milli” has a memorable beat with an incredibly deep bass line. The opening bar is tough, and this is regarded as one of Lil Wayne’s best songs. If you’re able to keep up with Lil Wayne’s flow, more power to you.
“I Gotta Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas (22.5 percent)
If one thinks of how good sports generally make them feel — their team winning, the camaraderie created by attending a game or watching an unbelievable play — it makes sense that “I Gotta Feeling” edged out the others from 2009.
2000s honorable mention list
• “Low” by Flo Rida feat. T-Pain (2007)
• “Remember the Name” by Fort Minor (2005)
• “Hot In Herre” by Nelly (2002)
• “Let It Rock” by Kevin Rudolf feat. Lil Wayne (2008)
• “Shots” by LMFAO feat. Lil Jon (2009)
“All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khaled feat. T-Pain, Ludacris, Rick Ross and Snoop Dogg (55 percent)
This is a heavy favorite of the 2010s for a reason. DJ Khaled has dominated the charts for more than a decade, and no song can will a team to victory — or celebrate one — quite like this.
“Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO (35.4 percent)
Though many might not know who was originally behind this jam, a fan’s natural response was likely to dance. When “Party Rock Anthem” comes on, it instantly makes you get on your feet. Its goal is to “make you lose your mind.”
“Dreams and Nightmares” by Meek Mill (29.1 percent)
It’s the buildup with this one. (Go to 1:37 of the above link for an immediate reaction.) Meek Mill created a timeless hit; the intro could be one of the most well-known in the past few decades.
“Turn Down For What” by DJ Snake and Lil Jon (39 percent)
It’s all in the title with this song. Lil Jon has been on hit records for decades, and this one got arenas as loud as ever. This was another song that refused to be confined to one genre.
“We Dem Boyz” by Wiz Khalifa (52.7 percent)
Wiz Khalifa has been a star for years and remains one nearly 10 years after this song was released. “We Dem Boyz” became the theme song for a team that was in a groove and gaining momentum.
“Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars (50.6 percent)
Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars came together to make arguably the song of the year. “Uptown Funk” was particularly great after the home team went on a run and either created some separation or got back into the game.
“Formation” by Beyoncé (36.1 percent)
Beyoncé is in a class of her own, and “Formation” was just another example. This song held down plenty of arenas worldwide and was just next in the long line of bangers she has supplied over the years.
“HUMBLE” by Kendrick Lamar (46.3 percent)
“Sit down! Be humble!” Kendrick Lamar’s reach and influence expanded far past rap and hip-hop. This track peaked from North America to Europe to Australia and rang out throughout arenas across the world.
“Sicko Mode” by Travis Scott feat. Drake (23 percent)
Travis Scott and Drake collaborated for a No. 1 single on the Billboard charts. DJs everywhere could turn this on with full confidence they would have an arena rocking.
“Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus (47.4 percent)
This was the song that broke Lil Nas X onto the mainstream music scene. Whether you enjoyed the track at first and got tired of it or loved it and still love it, it was undeniably a song that could get a party started.
2010s honorable mention list
• “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons (2012)
• “Gangnam Style” by PSY (2012)
• “Run the World (Girls)” by Beyoncé (2011)
• “Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B (2018)
• “Bad and Boujee” by Migos feat. Lil Uzi Vert (2016)
“Savage (Remix)” by Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé (45.9 percent)
Megan Thee Stallion already had a smash hit with this on her own, but anytime Beyoncé jumps on a song for a remix, it’s almost guaranteed to be good as gold — or platinum, in this case.
“Industry Baby” by Lil Nas X feat. Jack Harlow (34.3 percent)
Lil Nas X linked up with Jack Harlow — who recently held his own on “Saturday Night Live,” — to create a song that was a timeout and/or halftime go-to for several arenas. It’s a fun song that fans in a multitude of cities gravitate toward.
“About Damn Time” by Lizzo (37.8 percent)
Chances are you’ve heard this track since April and caught the infectious rhythm of the beat. It’s been a great song to let loose at games — especially if you catch yourself on the fan-cam video board.
2020s honorable mention list
• “Whats Poppin” by Jack Harlow (2020)
• “Break My Soul” by Beyoncé (2022)
• “What’s Next” by Drake (2021)
• “Life Is Good” by Drake and Future (2020)
• “The Assignment” by Tay Money (2022)
A special treat for you readers: Enjoy this Spotify playlist of all of the winners.
(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; photos: Scott Oldon, Jed Jacobs, Mike Strobe, Keystone, Katelyn Mulcahy, Harry How and Bob Levey / Getty Images)