NFL

Empty NFL Stadiums to Be Filled With Virtual Fans and Artificial Crowd Noise for TV Audience

As the NFL begins planning for the upcoming 2020 season and the distinct possibility of stadiums without fans, Fox Sports broadcaster Joe Buck said things might be different on-site at the venues, but to viewers watching the football action at home on television, today’s advanced technology will allow the game-day environment to look like it has in the past.

The 2020 NFL season and plans for no fans in the stands

With the NFL’s release of the 2020 schedule on May 7, the league currently plans on starting the season on time with a Thursday night season-opening matchup between the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Houston Texans on September 10. NBC will broadcast the game featuring a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship game, which Kansas City won in come-from-behind fashion 35-24. 

As of now, with the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic and an uncertain future, most health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, believe the safest way to resume any sports action will be without fans in the stands. 

“I think it’s feasible that negative testing players could play to an empty stadium. Is it guaranteed? No way,” Fauci told NBC Sports. “There will be virus out there and you will know your players are negative at the time they step onto the field.”

UFC provides a fan-less template

UFC
UFC empty arena. | Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

RELATED: Silence in Empty UFC Arenas Directly Affecting Fight Results

While the start of the football season is still almost four months away and the concept of empty NFL stadiums could dramatically change before then, the UFC has provided a template for all future sporting events as the organization has hosted two separate events with no fans in the last week.

In both events, the arena was completely absent of fans. The only people present in the arena were the fighters, their respective teams, and all essential UFC personnel, including the doctors, statisticians, and broadcast production team. 

While the overall atmosphere and appearance were quite different, the action inside the octagon was not. It was odd to see and hear how significant moments in the fights that would traditionally be a source of roars from the crowd, were met with an awkward silence. That aside, what happened in the cage was the same as has happened for years, and it was entertaining. Future sporting events can expect the same.    

Joe Buck details Fox’s plans for empty NFL stadiums 

Despite the deafening silence, the UFC has provided a solid example for other leagues in how they approach a future in sports without fans in attendance. According to broadcaster Joe Buck, Fox Sports plans on using advanced technology to provide its television audience with an experience similar to what it has watched in the past.

In an interview on SiriusXM with Andy Cohen Live, Buck said the network is exploring the possibility of pumping in crowd noise and projecting virtual vans in empty stadiums during the broadcasts.

“It’s pretty much a done deal. I think whoever is going to be at that control is going to have to be really good at their job and be realistic with how a crowd would react depending on what just happened on the field. So it’s really important. They’re also looking at ways to put virtual fans in the stands, so when you see a wide shot it looks like the stadium is jam-packed and in fact it’ll be empty.”

Joe Buck

While empty NFL stadiums are not ideal and will definitely change the experience for the players, coaches, and those fans who normally attend games, for the majority of NFL fans, these changes won’t dramatically alter the gameday experience.

Artificial crowd noise and computer-generated fans won’t matter. Those two components, while nice to have, aren’t essential. When fans are watching the game on television, they’re not watching the fans in the stands or paying attention to the crowd volume. All they care about is what happens from the snap to the whistle. And ultimately, when you consider the standings, who makes the playoffs, and who is crowned Super Bowl champion at the end of the season, that’s all that matters.