Is professional sport worth watching without crowds in attendance?

Tim Gavel 27 May 2020 13
Raiders supporters on mass at ANZ Stadium

The sea of green supporters at the NRL Grand Final at ANZ Stadium. Photo: Tim Gavel.

Major sport is about to resume in Australia in front of empty stadiums. Do we need cardboard cut-outs of fans and piped noise to provide atmosphere?

As the Raiders run out onto the field in Melbourne to play the Storm on Saturday night there will be one vital ingredient missing which makes sport at this level so compelling: a crowd.

On paper, it will look like a regular, potentially high-quality NRL game but the absence of a crowd will diminish it as a spectacle.

I am speaking from experience, having called events at the Commonwealth and Olympic Games where there were more officials, athletes and media than spectators.

A number of events at the 2010 Commonwealth Games readily come to mind where no spectators came along to cheer on the competitors. Even rowing at the Olympics during the minor finals and the early rounds of tennis at the Olympics did not attract a significant audience.

As a commentator it is much harder to call sport without spectators. They effectively provide an extra commentator, adding atmosphere, hype and character to an event.

You can only imagine what it must be like for the athletes themselves to see an empty stadium. They are essentially performers without an audience in attendance.

The Raiders have spoken many times about the value of the crowd in lifting them to a new level, akin to having an extra player on the field when it comes to generating energy within the team.

It would appear that for a fair portion of this season at least, they will have to look for inspiration elsewhere.

Will spectators watching the game from the comfort of their lounge rooms or listening on the radio feel a loss of hype because of an absent stadium audience? It could have the atmosphere of a NSW Cup or under 20s game played in near-empty stadiums.

Or will fans be simply grateful that there is sport to watch after months of what amounts to sporting ‘cold turkey’?

In other parts of the world where sport has resumed in crowd-less stadiums, extreme measures have been put in place to generate atmosphere.

In Taiwan, baseball resumed with no crowds but with cardboard cutouts mimicking spectators and robotic drummers to create noise. It was surreal and almost comical. FC Seoul has apologised for placing sex dolls in place of fans in an empty stadium.

I am predicting when the NRL resumes this week it will be staid in comparison to the usual scenario. While the product on the field will be good, in the back of the minds of many there will be sense that something is essentially missing.

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13 Responses to Is professional sport worth watching without crowds in attendance?
John Elliott John Elliott 2:33 pm 27 May 20

In these circumstances YES it is worth watching.

James Strang James Strang 2:12 pm 27 May 20

A packed house adds so much to the game, almost regardless of whether you're there or watching at home. Will certainly be watching a lot less football this year.

Ben Jones Ben Jones 1:15 pm 27 May 20

It will be like watching a Brumbies game from last season then .....

Neica Hall Neica Hall 11:43 am 27 May 20

I so love no football, it has been the corona virus silver lining.😥

Peter Reichstein Peter Reichstein 10:08 am 27 May 20

It would be worth watching if Phil Gould isn't commentating 🤢🤮

Shane Westmore Shane Westmore 8:43 am 27 May 20

yes... when the footy & the music venues shut down & we weren't even allowed to take day trips or even go to a national park, i found myself lost & started drinking a lot more & went into a bit of a depression... it took me a while to get over it, so for my own mental health i need this, even without the crowd, and i know i'm not the only one

Monty Ki Monty Ki 8:00 am 27 May 20

I can appreciate some people enjoy these types of sports. I don't understand why they get preference, privilege and priority, especially financial support, over arts, science interests and other "entertainment". We are a diverse country. We should be focusing on diverse cultural pursuits with some sort of equity.

Muzammil Ali Muzammil Ali 7:57 am 27 May 20

To be fair, if you’ve ever had the misfortune of watching highlights of a GWS or Suns home game, its hard to understand what the concern is here

bikhet bikhet 7:55 am 27 May 20

The real question is – is professional sport worth watching? Bread and circuses.

Ryan Fisher Ryan Fisher 7:53 am 27 May 20

They didn’t have crowds in Round 2 and I thought it was fine

Yuri Shukost Yuri Shukost 7:48 am 27 May 20

I prefer being able to hear the hits in defence.

Kate Carey Kate Carey 7:42 am 27 May 20

As keen as I am for sport to return, I find league as dull as ditchwater at the best of times so am unlikely to watch.

But the question is silly. Of course it is worth watching professional sport without a crowd in're not watching the result of the crowd's hard work, team training and skills development?

Colin Mitchell Colin Mitchell 7:31 am 27 May 20

The crowds give the players drive without that it will be like watching paint dry.

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