The beginning of this year’s NFL season just kicked off this past Thursday, and fans are already prepared for what will likely be a strange year for football because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many teams are not allowing any fans to attend the games at least this early in the season, while some are allowing fans but at a limited capacity. Much like the MLB, NBA, and NHL, this has led to some creative ways of adding key parts of the game in an artificial manner.
One of the things that the NFL is doing is trying to bring in noise to the stadiums to accurately portray the crowd that would normally be in attendance. This means that the home team will hear chants in support of their team and other pre-recorded audio. This will be done with the help of the sound engineers at NFL Films.
The NFL has been very diligent with establishing guidelines as to how this audio is used. The league put out a memo to team officials, coaches and staff prior to the beginning of the regular season detailing exactly what can’t be done to influence the audio. If any team or individual is found to be manipulating the stadium sound, there will be fines, lost draft picks, or even suspensions.
Specifically, the noise levels allowed within the stadiums cannot be higher than 75 decibels, according to the NFL’s rules. The league will take measures to monitor the sound levels throughout the game to determine if they meet the league’s standards. This will require each team to give the NFL information regarding who is in charge of running the audio levels in the stadium. In addition, the team must also send the NFL an official submission showing the team’s video board feed and stadium PA.
This comes after months of consideration by the NFL that also consulted with each of the league’s teams.
If more fans can attend these games in person, the NFL may drop the artificial crowd noise, but for now it will be the standard. The reason that some teams will have fans and some won’t comes down to local laws and the kind of stadium that is the site of the game.
Games with fans in attendance will also be adding noise
Fans who are able to attend these games will be put in a unique situation as well. The NFL describes the audio being added to these games as a way of amplifying the crowd noise to a “murmur” so that it reaches a closer level to a game with a full crowd. As Sportscaster Al Michaels noted on Thurday’s kickoff game, the number of fans actually present at the Kansas City Chiefs’ game would normally be what would be seen in a blowout game with a bad team playing, not the Super Bowl champions. Having additional fan noise in addition to the actual fans attending will also be a way to make an in stadium visit at least a little bit less out of the ordinary.
This audio will be played at 70 decibels and is meant to do a number of things. For one, it will create a more game-like atmosphere. There is a mental component involved for the players on the field and the coaches on the sidelines. It will also mask some of the in-game audio in a sport that is full of it. Football relies heavily on verbal playcalling at the line of scrimmage and that is definitely effected by the crowd noise. Not having any sound in the stadium at all might benefit defenses and thus impact the outcome of the game, which is something the league does not want. Finally, the NFL does not want to risk having millions of viewers hear excessive profanity or other unwanted comments.
Live broadcast noise
The telecasts of these games will also be undergoing some changes that are noteworthy. The TV broadcasts will react to what occurs in the game and the crowd noises will be controlled by the NFL in these broadcasts. The NFL has even gone so far as to hire a professional audio engineer to work alongside the TV networks to deliver this audio to television audiences. This is essentially the NFL’s version of the “laugh track” for games. Even the most casual viewer will most likely look up if they hear the “roar of the crowd” onscreen.
The NFL takes note of what other leagues are doing
Of course, this is just the latest tactic by a professional sports league to try to create as normal of an atmosphere as possible for fans, viewers, and players. Major League Baseball has put cardboard cutouts of its fans in the seats around the stadium. The NBA has implemented Microsoft Teams to provide video of fans on large screens cheering their team on in the stands. FOX Sports has also used a strange looking “virtual fans” visual for viewers watching the games on television.
Strict measures are to avoid another “cheating scandal” in professional sports
One of the reasons that the league is taking these measures so seriously is likely because of several recent controversies that have occurred throughout team sports to enhance their chances of winning. The last thing the league needs is an attention seeking “cheating scandal” over crowd noise.
For the NFL, “Deflategate” was an incredibly embarrassing ordeal. Fans might remember the scandal that broke roughly five years ago after the New England Patriots’ Quarterback, Tom Brady, allegedly ordered footballs that were to be used to be under-inflated. Brady was suspended for four games after this ordeal and it hurt both the league’s reputation in addition to the Patriots.
More recently, baseball’s Houston Astros experienced a similar controversy after it was discovered that the team had been using audio and video signals to steal their opponent’s signals. The team eventually won the World Series that season and many now see this as tainted. Major League Baseball dished out major suspensions on both the organization and its coaches in the aftermath of these revelations.
Clearly, it is in the league’s best interest to take all of these measures to ensure there are no scandals and just to simply try to level the playing field for teams while still ensuring some level of home field advantage. And for networks, it is clearly in hopes that it keeps fan interest alive and well for the league in 2020. Without doubt, the “12th man” will have to be artificial for at least some of 2020.