This is a question originally posed by the philosopher, George Berkeley. Although, George was pondering a far deeper philosophical question. And, I’ve of course changed the quote slightly to suit my purpose. But I think you get the point. Nonetheless, sport has returned to no crowds, so, I’ll ask you again. If sports are back and there are no crowds, does it make a sound?
When I heard sports would be returning I was ecstatic. Then, I was told in the initial stages there would be no crowds. My mind immediately shifted to one of my favourite TV shows; Seinfeld.
As with many 90s sitcoms, parts of Seinfeld is filmed in front of a live audience. The other parts of the show make use of a laugh track. If you’re not familiar with Seinfeld, there are many other examples Friends, Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men all use this technique.
The reason my mind drifted to Seinfeld is this. Have you ever watched any of those sitcoms without the laughter? Well, I have, at first, it’s a little bit strange (particularly Friends and Big Bang Theory). But, you start to pick up some of the nuances of the actor’s performance. OK, so that’s only true in the case on Seinfeld, but in any case, it’s still weird. Don’t believe me have a look below.
Seinfeld / Laugh Track Removed: Soup Nazi https://t.co/Keobuw3W7W
It’s still funny.
— Tanner Smith (@TannerLD) April 25, 2020
I’ve now watched 3 sporting events since we went into lockdown about 10 weeks ago. Two events (UFC 249 and The Match 2) featured no crowds and chose not to use fake crowd noise, the third (the NRL) decided to use fake crowd noise. I figured going into these events I’d find it strange watching without the crowd noise. This turned out to be true initially, but, what I didn’t anticipate was how entertaining not having crowds would make the events.
In the case of UFC 249, it was fascinating listening to the respective fighter’s corners discuss their strategies, identify opponent strength and weaknesses and just generally being unfiltered in the presence of the camera. I found it incredibly entertaining, something I did not anticipate going in.
UFC 249 GAETHJE VS FERGUSON Full Audio and Video between Rounds https://t.co/qnQH5b8hKn via @YouTube I am never able to retain these spots, huge thanks to the team at the @ufc for getting me these awesome memories. @TrevorWittman and I clocked in on May 9th #ufc #mma
— Justin Gaethje 🇺🇸 (@Justin_Gaethje) June 2, 2020
Let me preface watching “The Match 2” in its entirety by saying I have never been a fan of watching golf. Love playing it after I finish here I’m off for nine holes before it gets dark. But, being starved of sports content I decided to dive right in. I loved it. Not only did we get banter between the athletes but, we also got interaction from the athletes with the commentators. Resulting in Tom Brady doing this and then burning commentator Charles Barkeley straight after.
Charles Barkley trash talking Tom Brady. Then Brady hits this amazing shot and chirps back at Chuck. pic.twitter.com/sTrJaNoAjT
— PGA Golf Insider (@PGAGolfInsider) May 24, 2020
And that wasn’t even the best moment. For me, Tiger pointing out that Phil Mickelson has never won a US Open and offering one of his gold medals to mark Phil’s ball was banter of the highest grade.
Phil’s never won a US Open, so Tiger offered to let him borrow some of his hardware 😂
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 24, 2020
It got me thinking. Do we even need crowds anymore? I enjoyed these broadcasts so much, why can’t this be how we consume sport from now on? Aside from the obvious financial implications long-term give me one good reason. Not having crowds made these sports infinitely more entertaining. Could it be worth the financial implications of having no crowds long-term?
When the NRL announced it would return, I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to see what innovations the NRL would utilise to make the broadcast more entertaining in the absence of a crowd. Half-time speeches, bench mics, mic’d up players? instead, we got fake crowd noise and cardboard cutouts.
Good turnout of cardboard cutouts at the NRL tonight pic.twitter.com/xVQPiU21L4
— Rick Eyre on cricket (@rickeyrecricket) May 29, 2020
Don’t get me wrong, I’m ecstatic that the NRL is back. The fake crowd noise, however, I could do without. And, I’m not alone, it has NRL fans divided. I see this as a missed opportunity to try and innovate the broadcast, especially since it was the first sport to make its return in Australia. It was a real opportunity to capture some additional casual fans. And, when you consider the NRL’s ratings crash this week, perhaps there’s some substance to that thought.
Like when I watched Seinfeld without the crowd noise, I thought I would find it strange. But I’ve discovered that by watching without the crowd noise I’ve been able to focus more on the acting and the nuances that made that show so special. I’ve realised that sport is the same. Yes, the crowd adds atmosphere and promotes a feeling of grandeur. But, what I love about sport isn’t the atmosphere or the grandeur of the event. It’s the strategy, in-game adjustments, coach outbursts and strokes of genius from coaches and athletes alike. So, if we have access to this via a broadcast, are crowds even necessary anymore?
To answer the question I posed above. Sports may not make crowd sound for the moment. But, sports can be a hell of a lot more entertaining without them.