Among the greatest assets sports has is authenticity, but there are indications TV networks may not want to hear that.
Here’s hoping sound thinking prevails.
Assuming leagues figure out how to start up again safely and smartly amid the coronavirus pandemic, it may well require games played without fans in attendance — or at least far fewer of them than usual.
This prospective void has prompted chatter among broadcasters about adding fake crowd noise.
To which we say as loudly as necessary: No, please, no. Unless you’re trying to insult us and the sports you carry, don’t do it.
The real-life sound of empty ballparks and arenas may be weird. But everything is weird right now. We can handle it.
Whether TV will listen is unclear.
This is an industry that for decades has clung to laugh tracks largely, though not exclusively, on the assumption viewers wouldn’t know something was supposed to be a joke without it.
You know, because we’re sheep that way and some of those jokes were easy to miss.
The practice continues today, but it’s mercifully not as commonplace as it once was.
Better to have faith in the material.
Better yet to have faith in us.
Just as we don’t need canned laughs to tell us whether something funny is funny, we don’t need artificial cheering to reassure us that the games we’re watching are interesting and exciting.
TV doesn’t need to tweak the truth.
We can handle the truth.
The irony is that, for years now, TV producers have been wiring players for sound and using sensitive microphones to give viewers the chit-chat, contact and other ambient sounds normally drowned out by crowd noise.
Now that all of that should be easily heard in the absence of crowds, the networks want to add recorded crowd noise.
Fox announcer Joe Buck said earlier this month that “it’s pretty much a done deal” his network would use artificial crowd noise on NFL broadcasts this fall if there are games without spectators. There might even be virtual fans digitally added to give the appearance of a full stadium.
Just like a video game. Maybe Super Mario can play tight end, Lara Croft center field.
“There is no ‘traditional’ take on this topic,” Buck tweeted a day later. “It’s new territory. Hoping stadiums are full and all is normal. If not, then it’s a blank canvas. All networks will try to make it look and sound as normal as possible. It could lead to unprecedented, thrilling access. Who knows?”
Networks trying to make games look and sound normal will have the opposite effect.
It’s better to stick with the way things actually are. Late-night talk shows are getting by without audiences, studios and full crews. There’s a different rhythm and look, yet viewers accept them. If they don’t need applause, why do the Cubs or Bears?
What Buck is talking about isn’t electronically adding a yellow first-down line or a ball-and strike box to make something clearer for viewers. This is an attempt to make what’s actually happening less clear.
Even worse is the nagging fear that once TV producers add cinematic embellishments, the fakery never will completely go away.
It no longer will be something organizations sheepishly concede as CBS did when caught by bird lovers for sweetening its 2000 PGA Championship coverage with recordings of non-indigenous chirps.
When the NFL’s Falcons were caught piping artificial crowd noise into the old Georgia Dome, the league fined them $350,000, stripped them of their fifth-round draft pick in ‘16 and suspended their team president from its influential competition committee.
“Some of this stuff is embarrassing,” college hoops coach John Calipari told the New York Daily News. “I just shook my head. I said, ‘Do we need to do that?’ “