Ghost stadiums prove professional sport needs audiences

Germany calls them “Geisterspiele”, or ghost games. If only that was right. A few howling ghouls in the stands would ease the fear that the sport would resume without the lifeblood of spectator emotion.

Professional sport is a contract between the artist and the public. While the player is essential, it’s also hard to do without the crowds, judging by the emptiness some viewers felt when the Bundesliga and charity golf star hit the screens this weekend. Everyone in a sports arena also represents someone who is not there. And now everyone is part of a distant, disembodied army.

The long journey of empty stadiums, fairways and infields has begun – and there’s a good chance it won’t end this year. Following the successful return of German football, clubs, governing bodies and fans are striving to squeeze the good old fun out of the games with pool acoustics, eerie screams, empty seat benches and an absence of confrontational tension.

The possibilities are that 1. Viewers will stop noticing and become more interested in the game itself, rather than the chants, fan noise and crowd reactions or 2. Once the novelty is worth Of the recovery will have worn off, viewers will walk away and wait for the crowded arenas to return, however long it takes.

Sport already knows one thing now. The spectators are not only movie extras, noise makers, replicas of shirt models.

Sports where the crowds are more incidental to the action – horse racing, for example – may more optimistically view restored facilities that generate an atmosphere. The final roar at Newmarket or Ascot is recorded – but the camera is on. Close-ups are likely to supplant panoramic shots as TV directors look for ways to emphasize the playing field rather than lingering on empty galleries.

Those who just study the game and the players and can manage without background activity are vastly outnumbered by viewers who want an emotional barometer of the action: for the ebb and flow of anger and joy. , which affect the players, the teams and ultimately the results, as anyone who has been at Anfield on a big European night would testify.

Early sounds from Bundesliga matches “Geisterpiele” suggest less 50-50 tackles and more passing as players subconsciously avoid contact wherever possible – and less pressure on match officials to pull themselves apart. lean towards the home team.

When Premier League football resumes, clubs can expect results to be significantly affected by these new coronavirus-related conditions. Relegation-threatened teams, for example, who might turn to a manic pressing game to earn points might have a harder time persuading their players to physically commit 100%. Thus, the more skillful teams will have an added advantage as the physical pressure exerted on them will drop a notch.

And without a crowd, each artist will have to find their own means of adapting to the new quasi-silence. There are advantages. Racial abuse will stop. All abuse will stop, unless it comes from the judiciary or the television staff. When Test Cricket tiptoes back, some traditionalists might not miss the Beer Snakes or the Barmy Army chants. For others, this institutionalized debauchery is inseparable from red ball cricket. In golf, you will no longer hear “go into the hole” when a player is on his backswing.

The noise of the crowds won’t be any more objectionable to some than the boxed laughs in an episode of Daddy’s Army. England’s Jofra Archer has previously argued for sound effects in cricket. We all have to make compromises. Placing 20 sex dolls on the floor, however, proved to be a step too far in South Korea for FC Seoul, who had to apologize. In the age of esports and Game of Thrones aesthetics, young viewers may be oblivious to the computer-generated crowds that appear if a coronavirus vaccine is slow to arrive.

We know that players and coaches are sensitive to the shock of empty stadiums. Borussia Dortmund coach Lucien Favre said: “We miss our fans very much. It was just a very different game. Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Burki said: “It was no different from the games we played when we were kids; no spectators just for fun. You could notice it in the way our team were playing Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller commented: “Of course it was a bit like a former players game, 7pm, spotlight vibe. But as soon as the ball started rolling we were focused. We have to try to just block it. ” “

The Dortmund players returned their traditional post-match salute to the south stand, knowing that many absent friends would be watching on TV. Germany’s TV audience of over 6 million for the weekend’s games confirmed the latent appetite for live sport. It’s harder to know how many German fans left satisfied – and how many felt disappointed.

A 51-page health and safety protocol is not something sport has never experienced. Even World War II football in Britain was able to attract tens of thousands of people. This pandemic has made mass gatherings unthinkable and erased spectators from the board while affirming how fundamental they are to our sporting life.

Sara R. Cicero