Sports are back, but with restrictions on one of the most important parts of the game.
Fans are a crucial part of sporting events. For the players, fans provide energy, excitement, and support. Even as a visiting team, the often hostile nature of opposing fans can provide extra motivation to win the game.
The NBA did not allow fans during the playoffs. Some NFL teams are slowly allowing small numbers of fans to trickle into stadiums, but 18 of the 32 teams in the league are not allowing any fans. MLB allowed 11,500 fans to attend the World Series at Globe Life Field, approximately one-quarter capacity.
Colleges are handling spectators differently. Alabama is allowing 20% capacity, but Colorado is not allowing fans.
High schools in Michigan are now allowed to fill to 30% capacity or 1,000 maximum fans.
Some fans are better than no fans, but it simply does not provide the same experience.
I played basketball through high school and playing in front of a full crowd was electric. There is no better feeling as an athlete than playing on your home court and hearing your name called as part of the starting lineup as the crowd goes crazy.
For high school sports, fans make the games more fun. Student sections have themes, families attend to show their support, and teachers, faculty, and community members watch students show off their athletic talents. The energy under the Friday night football lights or in the gymnasium during the biggest volleyball game of the year is incredible, and as an athlete, makes you feel special.
Fans at college and professional games can change the outcome of a game. The energy fans bring to a contest provides motivation for the players. People watching on television see fan reactions and hear thunderous shouts from the crowd, enhancing their viewing experience.
Fans get to watch their favorite team play live, right in front of them. As a die-hard sports fan, there is nothing better than attending your team’s home game and being a part of the crowd.
Simply put, fans change the game.
Sports just do not feel the same without them.
It’s weird, almost unnerving, to watch an NFL game and see empty seats and hear only excitement from players after a touchdown amidst an eerily empty stadium. Maybe it’s just because having fans is the norm, but the absence of fans makes the viewing experience…worse.
Do I believe that stadiums should allow tens of thousands of people to pile in to watch the game? No, that would almost surely cause a spike in COVID-19 cases. I do, however, believe that every team at every level should have a small number of fans in attendance.
For starters, the proper precautions are in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. We can go to restaurants, bars, and classes with masks and social distancing. Fans can do the same thing in a stadium.
Next, it is unfair that some teams get to play with fans and others do not. The teams allowing fans have the typical home field advantage during home games, but teams without fans have no advantage at any game, home or away.
Also, not allowing fans brings up a serious ethical question. If we are asking (and allowing) athletes to risk their own health to compete for our entertainment, why are we not allowing fans to be there to support them?
Having fans present at games makes the games more exciting, but another problem is money. Forbes estimated that the Dallas Cowboys would lose $621 million if fans were not allowed to attend home games.
That lost revenue from ticket sales, merchandise, and concessions could have a crippling effect on sports as we know it. Salaries would be more difficult to pay, creating potential issues between players and organizations. In the worst-case scenario, this could lead to player holdouts and league wide season cancellations.
Regardless, the most important thing is keeping people safe, and limiting the number of fans in stadiums is the only way to do that. Having a reduced number of fans is not a perfect fix, but it marks progress. Small numbers of fans could still make the games more exciting, help the players, and keep money coming in.
It would be great for massive crowds of die-hard sports fans to return, but that seems unrealistic and frankly, irresponsible, at this point.