The Return of Sports–Without Fans In The Stands

A less-than-pleased Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason)

Are we ready to watch live sporting events without fans in the stands?
Sports fans have gone more than four months without any live sporting events. Instead of watching the NHL and NBA playoffs or the start of the baseball season, we were cut off cold turkey. No warning, no chance to see a few more games before the season went dark. Just like that, it was gone.
The simple definition of a sports fan is a fanatic. Some of us live and breathe sports. To have live games ripped from our existence was a jolting experience. At least smokers trying to quit are given a “patch” to help wean them off the need for nicotine over time. There was no quarter given to sports fans.
Oh sure, it was interesting for a while as the sports channels appeased us with “classic” reruns of games we had already seen. But the novelty of seeing all five games of the Mets 1969 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles wore off in, well, five days. I don’t know about you, but I have no interest in watching a game that I already know who wins.

I’m that nut you’ve heard about that doesn’t want to know the final score to a game he’s taping (now it’s DVR) to watch later. It’s like when Ralph Kramden’s mother-in-law blabbed about the surprise ending of the play he had tickets for. It just ruined it for him.
To tell you how desperate I was for live sports, I spent more than an hour watching a broadcast of the Mets and Yankees playing each other on a video game. That’s right, I watched the entire computer-simulated contest, even cheering when the computer version of Jeff McNeil hit a grand slam in the eighth inning, and the Cyber Mets won 4-0.

Sports fans finally got a little taste when the real Mets and Yankees played a pair of exhibition games over the weekend. Instead of the usual craziness on display in the stands when these two rivals play each other, all the seats were empty. Technically, there were “fans” at Citi Field, but they were cardboard cutouts of real fans.

To add ambiance to the ballpark, the teams pumped in pre-recorded “crowd” noise. It was like watching a sitcom with a laugh track. No matter how bad the jokes are, they still get a laugh. Athletes always talk of the home field advantage and how their fans get them going. But can cardboard fans and canned crowd noise get their competitive juices flowing?
Who knows, maybe live sporting events without fans in the stands might catch on. The days of grabbing your friends and heading out to the ballpark at the last minute are few and far between. The cost of good seats combined with the hassle of getting to and from the ballpark has curtailed the number of games the casual fan attends.

Sports bars are a useful (and cheaper) alternative for fans as a gathering place to watch the game and share the fan experience. You can cheer and boo just as loud inside the bar as you would in your $150 seat. At least the bathroom lines are shorter.

Of course, there is no more exceptional fan experience than being a witness in the stadium for a playoff or World Series game. The rush of adrenaline and the crowd’s roar cannot be manufactured for the athletes on the field. They feed off it, and it enhances their performance. Ask any actor about the rush they get from the crowd at the end of a performance on Broadway, compared to filming a movie.

Even when watching from your living room, you feed off the crowd’s energy at the stadium and enjoy the players reacting to them. Somehow, I don’t think a ballgame without fans in the stands is going to be as exciting to watch.

Even for a desperate fan like me.

Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a Press Club of Long Island award-winning columnist (2018, 2020) and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.

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