No Fans, But Still Fun
Updated: Aug 9, 2020
By Mike Toth
Every once in a while, it's great to be wrong.
When professional sports announced it's comeback following the COVID-19 shutdown, I was extremely skeptical about how the "no fans in the stands" product would look on television. But after a few weeks of watching MLB, NHL and NBA games sans fans, I have to admit that the lack of live bums in the seats isn't that big of a deal. Sure, gazing into a sea of empty bleachers takes a little getting used to. But if you just imagine that you're tuning into a home game involving poorly supported teams such as the Tampa Bay Rays, Ottawa Senators or Toronto Argos, there really isn't much of a difference. That's a huge feather in the cap of the various leagues and their TV partners. They've done an excellent job on the bells and whistles that have enhanced the on-air product - piped in crowd noise, high tech video boards and, in the case of MLB, cardboard cutouts of fans situated behind home plate. A special shout out to the Minnesota Twins for taking the creativity up a notch by featuring cutouts of some of the franchise's legendary performers, including Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett.
Why not take a page from the Twins and have some fun in the "No Fans" era?
You could stage a "Cartoon Cutout Night" at the ballpark, with the papered mugs of Fred Flintstone, Bugs Bunny and Scooby Doo hanging out in the box seats. Maybe you could even rig up a sound effects device to allow Freddy to bellow "Yabba Dabba Do!" every time the home team belts one out of the park.
Or how about "Dead Rock Star Night"?
How cool would it be to imagine the cardboard cutouts of Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin and Prince coming to life, wolfing down a stack of hot dogs (or fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches for The King) and watching Aaron Judge go deep?
The possibilities are endless, and a lot more entertaining than how the TV networks handled live crowd shots in pre-pandemic times.
It has always been one of my pet peeves about televised sports.
A player smacks a dinger or scores a gorgeous goal and right away the camera cuts to a bunch of face-painted loonies up in the stands. I don't know about you, but when I'm attending a live sporting event I never spin around in my seat following a fantastic play to check out how the guy up in section 17 is celebrating. I want to see the reaction of the person who actually made the play and soak up the emotion of the player's teammates as they share in the moment. Instead, in a misguided attempt to capture the "atmosphere" of the building, too many television directors fall in love with crowd shots and forget about the athletes who made it all happen in the first place. But there’s no chance of that taking place during the COVID Cup. With no actual humanoids sitting in the cheap seats, the camera has to stay completely trained on Mike Trout, Connor McDavid and LeBron James - all of the mega-stars that all of us couch potatoes want to see.
Do all of those "franchise guys" miss performing in front of a live audience?
I don't think there's any doubt about it. From Mickey Mantle to Bobby Hull to Michael Jordan, most of the all-time greats have admitted that the roar of the crowd is one of the things they miss the most about playing the game they love.
But for all of us mere mortals watching the game from home during the pandemic, you surprisingly find yourself forgetting about the absence of spectators. In fact, without the constant camera cuts to the crazy fans and goofy mascots, you can focus completely on the action and appreciate the fantastic athleticism on display like never before.
Still, if you really need the buzz of the crowd to get you going, you can always pop over to my place. I have one son who's a passionate Toronto Maple Leafs fan, and another son who lives and breathes the Montreal Canadiens. So for old time's sake, feel free to drop by and watch the lads duke it out. It's just like being at the old Montreal Forum or Maple Leaf Gardens on a rock 'em, sock 'em Saturday night.
But until we're allowed to make like sardines and pack the stands again, watching "made for television" sports is all we have.
It's not perfect.
However, it's a lot better than I expected and after four months without the sporting events that many of us love, watching a game being broadcast from an empty stadium is definitely better than no game at all.