BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
I have to admit that I never thought I’d see the day where sporting events would be played in front of no fans.
In this industry, we often kid around about a team that plays in front of sparse crowds because of a losing record. There are cases where a stadium location also leads to smaller crowds.
There are fickle sports towns where if you win, they’ll support the team. If you don’t win, they won’t support. There are others where they’ll support no matter what.
Here in 2020, I remember when Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James scoffed at the idea of playing in front of no fans during the beginning of COVID-19.
But as the virus kept cancelling and postponing events, each sport had to make a decision to permanently stop or hope to find a way to salvage a season.
Early in the process, I began to watch Korea Baseball Organization Games on ESPN. I enjoy baseball so much that it was interesting to watch it in another country with no fans.
Then, it became more interesting to see remote announcers call the games and that has developed into a current trend. The KBO also had cheerleaders which I don’t see happening in MLB.
NASCAR started the remote announcers and no fans.
MLB used piped in noise at games and remote announcers. Teams got clever by selling cardboard cut outs of fans in the stands.
What’s interesting in MLB was since there are no fans, players could be heard and as a result, there were some ejections as players would argue balls and strikes or questionable calls with the umpires. There was an instance where a player got tossed from the stands.
Because it looked bad, empty seats were covered up with canvas advertising to create additional advertising revenues.
The NBA and NHL Bubbles were well thought out and planned as tarps covered arena seats and there were virtual fans in the stands.
As we enter football season, it appears that there won’t be fans in the stands for the first game or two. When fans are allowed in the stands, I wouldn’t expect stadiums to have crowds of over 25% due to social distancing.
When will stadiums have larger capacities to give a team home court, ice and field advantage?
There wasn’t any in the NHL and NBA. Without fans, the team that should have had an advantage of fans was negated.
The Indianapolis 500, The US Open Tennis Tournament in New York as well as other events certainly aren’t the same without fans. But for now, at least there are events going on and champions will be crowned, even if some of these titles are going to have an asterisk in the history books.
Will fans decide to stay away from sporting events because it’s more convenient and less expensive to stay home?
Some of this will determine where they live.
In colder climates, they’ll go back quicker since there is a lot less to do. In the warmer climates like Florida, California, Arizona and Southern Nevada, I’d see less urgency.
I predict that the crowds will never be the same after what we’ve seen this year. As a result, owners of these teams are going to have to get real creative with their marketing departments to entice fans to come back.
I know as a member of the media, the way we do things will be much different with remote reporting as Zoom Technology takes over our landscape. Will there ever be a press box that’s near it’s capacity? It will be interesting to find out in 2021.
For those media members that retired early, they’re probably glad that they got out at the right time.
But how things have changed in this unprecedented time we live in.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.