It’s understandable that sports want to normalize their games as much as possible in severely abnormal times. So they pump in crowd noise, allow fans to place personalized cutouts in seats, and they go on with business as usual. Except they are completely dropping the ball.
Sure, change is scary, especially when you have billions of dollars on the line. But when facing change, you are also faced with opportunity. Instead of seizing opportunity, instead of living in a moment that will be etched in history books, pro sports leagues are living in a constant clamor of fake crowd noise.
There’s an intensity, an adrenaline that spikes when the camera shakes from the screams of 50,000 fans. You feel it sitting on your couch, in your raised hairs and tightened skin, repositioning in your seat, uncontrollably munching on chips and jalapeño poppers.
Let me ask you something: Do you feel it now? Watching whatever sport you’ve found to replace what’s normal? Does the fake noise still get you there? Does it still put you in fandemonium?
The cutouts are cool. Maybe you’ll see yourself at the game—awesome. But the fake noise is just that: noise. It’s din filling an empty stadium. It’s the TV on during dinner. It’s a construction zone on a sunny day. It’s your girlfriend talking to you during your show. Pro sports have an opportunity to give us something fans have always wanted: a look inside.
Underneath the pumped-in cheers lies a game of deceit and aggression. We’ve always had the aggression, yelling, sweating, sprinting, hitting. What has been harder to see is the deceit. Strategy. It takes a sharp and patient eye to catch every little adjustment, tip, or bluff that happens. Take poker for example. You have players with shades to hide their eyes, or hats down low. Some want people to see their face, some are silent, some can’t stop talking, egging other players on, talking themselves up or down, some delay inevitable moves just to keep the other player off balance. None of this changes the cards they hold. But all of this makes the game what it is.
Imagine watching poker with noise pumped in, making the players inaudible to fans. It sounds like a pretty terrible watch to me. On the flip side, imagine watching football or basketball with zero crowd noise. Just the players calling out plays, offenses making adjustments, calling out hot routes and blitz pick ups, or mismatches. Listen to the defenses react, switching assignments, changing coverages, or silently taking whatever the offense gives them. On top of that you could hear LeBron telling JaVale McGee to get lost because Pat Beverly can’t guard him. Or, God Bless his soul, you could have listened to Andrew Luck compliment guys on their big beautiful hits and hear Quenton Nelson scream like the man child he is.
Not every game has to be like this. Mix in a few here and there, keep some with the pumped in crowd noise. It’s not like we as fans have a whole lot of options at this point. But it’s a shame to say they couldn’t see the opportunity that sits before them.
It won’t be like this forever; fans will come back. But if the NBA was willing to try that horrible microfiber basketball, if the MLB is willing to start extra innings with a runner on second, if the NFL is finally easing up on the blue dream team, why can’t we live in the reality of the fanless sports era?