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Sports not the same without fans

The first sports I saw televised without fans in attendance during these troubled times (aren’t you sick of hearing that?) were soccer contests from Europe and South America. Some piped in crowd noise at the stadium. Some added it to the broadcast. Then came the games from the Major League Soccer MLS is Back Tournament held in the so-called bubble at the Disney complex in Orlando. Crowd noise was added to those broadcasts though there was an option to watch without it online. Major League Baseball returned as well with no one in the stands but the noise piped into stadiums and picked up on the broadcast. It is impossible to match the recorded crowd reaction with big moments in the games – particularly soccer matches – so the ‘˜crowd’ becomes background noise, something akin to the sound of waves crashing on a beach in the distance. Still, it is better than nothing. College football season is just around the corner and fans everywhere are dismayed that the season could be cancelled. The vast majority would be thrilled at this point to have games televised with fake noise or with no noise at all. If college games are played, the most likely scenario is one with limited in-person attendance. If I had to bet on what happens in Athens, I would say students, faculty, staff and the high-end donors will get to watch games in person with the rest of us relegated to the TV. With all that is going on, I am fine with that. The Ivy League has cancelled all fall sports including football. That will free up a smidgen of airtime for contests of consequence. Other conferences have talked of going to a conference-only schedule. That could endanger classics like Georgia-Georgia Tech, Florida-Florida State, Clemson-South Carolina and the SEC and ACC are fighting to preserve those longstanding rivalry games usually played at the end of the season. The kickoff classic type games which open the season are in serious trouble, however. Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl chairman Gary Stokan’s organization was to host three such contests this year: Georgia-Virginia, Florida State-West Virginia and North Carolina-Auburn. All the TV money from those games goes to the conferences so they are dependent on ticket sales, in-stadium revenue and sponsorships to survive. With no fans in attendance, those budgets cannot be met without concessions from the conferences (and, likely, the schools) involved. I doubt Disney/ESPN will reduce their slice of the pie by much. So, your best bet for in-person football this fall will be at the local high school football stadium. GHSA has said games will go on after a two-week delay and will let local school districts determine how to handle seating, concessions, etc. That is exactly where the decision should lie – in local hands.

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