John Madden Offers Advice for NFL’s Potential Fan-Less Scenario

john madden

Former Raiders head coach John Madden.

The NFL is expecting to have fans in the stands during the 2020 season.

“Now remember when we’re talking — we’re talking about September, August, September. So there’s a lot that can happen here. So we’re planning for full stadiums, NFL EVP of Football Operations Troy Vincent said (via Pro Football Action). “We also know that we have to plan for half stadiums. Three-quarters. So we’re planning for all of these different scenarios.”

The league is making every effort to provide a normal football experience to fans, though there remains a chance that the COVID-19 pandemic throws a wrench in those plans.

The Plan for Stadiums With no Fans

In the event that there are no fans in the stadium and no crowd noise in the background of broadcasts on television, what should the league do? Should they play fake crowd noise in an attempt to replicate the same experience that the fans are used to?

Perhaps there’s no one better to answer that question than Hall of Fame coach and broadcaster John Madden. Madden told long-time NBC Producer Fred Gaudelli that he wouldn’t go that route.

“He said, ‘When I first left the coaching profession and went to broadcasting, there was something about it that I just felt was missing and I couldn’t really put my finger on it,’” Gaudelli recalled (via The Athletic). “He said, ‘Then I realized that I wasn’t hearing the sound that I had grown accustomed to hearing — as a player and as a coach. I never coached from the box, I coached from the field.’ He said to me, ‘Fred, you’re going to hear things that even you have never heard, so I’d be really trying to figure out how to best capture those sounds, and present them to the audience and not worry as much about artificial sound.’”

What Are Other Leagues Thinking About?

The NBA is strongly contemplating playing the remainder of the season in Orlando in a campus-like bubble that would hopefully be safe for players to play but also be fanless. One option for the NBA could be using virtual fans.

“We are right now looking at a number of different technologies,” said Sara Zuckert, the NBA’s senior director of domestic programming and content strategy. “We are looking at all ways for fans to engage, whether that is virtual cheering and other options, we are really considering many options.”

Zuckert said that the league would lean toward a technological answer when asked if cardboard cutouts in the stands were being discussed (the Korea Baseball Organization has used life-sized dolls to emulate fans).

Other options could be video monitors in stands with remote fans taking part in big Zoom-like calls where they could cheer from the screens and be heard.

The NHL is the first major North American sports league to announce a return. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league will take the opportunity to showcase different camera angles that are made possible without fans in the way.

“These playoffs with no fans in the stands, likely finishing these playoffs with no fans in the stands, I do think it does create a unique opportunity to capture content, to capture video footage from unique angles not having to worry about line of sight for fans in the building, audio devices in places where they might not normally exist,” Daly said. “I just think it’ll provide a canvas to paint maybe a little bit different picture.

“And in particular, fans pay lots of money for seats, you don’t want to obstruct their view, we won’t have the same set of constraints in terms of not obstructing views. So I think it’s pretty much open season on camera location, and probably even camera size to capture in a world where types of cameras are different… I don’t know exactly how much different or better it will look. But I do expect a lot of experimentation on that side to make a better broadcast.”

And the MLB? Well…they should worry about paying the players before worrying about anything else.

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