If There's No Audience, There Just Ain't No Show
The NHL, NBA and MLB are itching to get back into action, either playing regular season games, or going right to the playoffs. Most sports fans can't wait for the games to start in earnest again, even if it means watching winter sports in the middle of the summer.
I'm looking forward to watching games again, but one thing I won't be able to handle are quiet buildings, since no fans will be in the seats.
One thing I've learned in the pandemic is the importance of the crowd. An audience is essential to enjoying something on television and while I may be in the minority, but I hope leagues use "fake noise" when they get back to action.
Wrestling with Silence
Not long after the pandemic was declared, the WWE announced it would continue to deliver its televised wrestling shows on Monday and Friday nights. It moved everything to its training facility in Florida and all the matches would take place there.
I still haven’t figured how the WWE is getting away with this. After all, it’s a little hard to socially distance when you’re putting your opponent in a Tombstone Piledriver.
I remember watching the first Monday night Raw to see what wrestling would be like without a crowd. I didn’t have to wait long. Right away, one of the wrestlers came to the ring and started a typical promo to an empty arena. It seemed really strange. Why go to the middle of the ring to talk to an empty building? It didn’t make sense.
Watching wrestling for the last two months hasn’t gotten much better. I quickly came to realize how important the crowd is. Wrestling plays to the audience more than pro sports do, so without an audience, all the routines, catch phrases and even the matches, fall totally flat.
For the first time in years, I watch far less wrestling than I normally do because quite frankly it’s dull. I’m not alone. Last week’s edition of Raw reportedly drew the second-lowest ratings in the show’s history, which goes back over 27 years. The numbers were 30% lower than the last show with an audience just a few months ago.
It’s not just the WWE that’s feeling the pain of the no-audience Full Nelson. It’s main competitor AEW Wrestling saw its lowest TV ratings recently since it went on the air last October.
No crowd equals no emotion, which means less excitement and fewer viewers.
On The Ice and the Court
I mention this because both the NHL and NBA are desperately trying to make arrangements to wrap up their seasons with the playoffs and awarding championships because there’s too much money on the line not to.
Before hockey fans get carried away on an emotional binge about the prospect of being able to watch three games a day on television, remember there will be no fans in the arenas where they’ll be playing. There will be no cheering after goals, no applause after great saves and no booing the referees. Once again, no crowd noise means less emotion and an uninspired version of what we’re used to seeing.
If you want to imagine what this will be like, think about a mid-week game between two poor teams in the middle of January with few goals and very little hitting. The arena feels like a funeral home. Now, take that thought and divide by two. That’s what it will feel like.
Certainly the stakes will be much higher because it’s the playoffs, but I wonder if that will matter? A game with no emotion from the fans will create a big hole for the average viewer.
Televising these games will be a real challenge for the networks, especially those showing basketball. Games could be little more than two and a half hours of hearing running shoes squeaking on the court.
I expect to see some networks use canned crowd noise to try to make it feel more like a real game. I think it would be better than near silence. As Trump would say “What have you got to lose?”
The Roar of the Crowd
Don’t get me wrong. I think whatever we’re going to get is better than the alternative, which of course is nothing.
I saw somebody on Twitter say they couldn’t believe how people complaining about not having sports to watch for over two months are now the same people complaining about the format the NHL is using for the expected return. So true. Whatever we’re going to get is something that should be appreciated.
My point is, don’t expect it to be the same thing as we’re used to seeing because the crowd plays such a huge factor in the overall impression we get from watching sports. When the crowd at the arena is into the game, it’s much easier for the TV audience to do the same.
If there’s one thing I learned from sports in the pandemic is the importance of the crowd. It’s a much bigger factor than I ever realized.
It’s not just sports. Late night talk shows are struggling without live audiences and although Saturday Night Live tried to make it work, most of its skits fell flat without a live audience too. When it ran its season-ending show just over a week ago it was almost a relief.
When Chilliwack released Rain-O almost 50 years ago and sang “If there’s no audience, there just ain’t no show” they certainly weren’t far off.
Thanks to everyone (and there were a lot of you) who read last week's blog Trudeau, Truth and Blacklock's Reporter. It was one of the most widely-read blogs I've written and had the rare distinction of getting more reads on the second day of release than the first.