Of all of the logistical hurdles sports leagues were faced with when trying to figure out how to salvage the seasons that came to an abrupt halt back in March, determining how to deal with the spectator element was likely fairly low on the list of priorities when you consider it’s fairly pointless to start worrying about the feasibility of allowing fans to attend games until you devise a plan that allows them to be played in the first place.
That’s not to say the attendance factor wasn’t taken into consideration, as you can’t ignore the financial impact of holding contests in empty stadiums and arenas. However, when you take all of the economic factors into account, it makes approximately zero sense to use the prospect of generating zero dollars in ticket sales to subsequently decide to also make zero dollars in television revenue.
Some MLB teams are planning to allow a limited number of people to sit in the stands this season and the NFL is taking a similar approach (although it may force everyone to sign their life away before going through the gates). However, both the NHL and the NBA opted to go the fanless route when deciding to harness the bubble strategy, which will undoubtedly take a little bit of getting used to.
Before everything officially went to shit, the NBA told teams there was a chance they would have to play in venues where the only people in attendance would be essential personnel—a prospect that didn’t sit too well with LeBron James, who pledged to sit out if that possibility became a reality.
As we all know, that’s exactly what happened, but after having some time to reflect, he decided to make the trek to Orlando along with all of the other players who recently joined the 22 teams that were invited to Walt Disney World Resorts an attempt to make the best out of an otherwise miserable situation.
Last month, there were rumors that the NBA was looking into the possibility of jacking the audio files from NBA 2K to use fake crowd noise in an attempt to make the transition a little less jarring, and according to Awful Announcing, that’s not the only step it’ll be taking to try to make a surreal environment as realistic as it can.
On Wednesday, Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle revealed he’d gotten a sneak peek at the NBA’s master plan, telling reporters that the league has dreamed up a way to incorporate virtual fans and will be pumping noise into venues during games in an attempt to replicate a traditional contest.
The Mavs' practice gym today was adjacent to one of the playing venues. Rick Carlisle says he peeked around the curtain and was blown away by the way the arena is set up. "Very cool." Discussed how there will be "virtual fans" and noise.
— Brad Townsend (@townbrad) July 15, 2020
Rick Carlisle says there’s going to be virtual fans, digital boards, and “home team sounds” (?) during games in Orlando.
— Paolo Uggetti (@PaoloUggetti) July 15, 2020
I was previously operating under the assumption that virtual fans would be a post-production trick designed to cater to television viewers but it seems like Carlisle is suggesting they’ll be visible to everyone. I have no idea how that would work but I can only assume the NBA called in a favor to Disney, which seems to have the whole “hologram” thing figured out.
Carlisle also didn’t explicitly say there will be crowd noise but rather “home team sounds,” but I think it’s safe to assume the league is attempting to replicate the slight edge squads have when playing on their own turf, meaning we can probably expect the “fans” to root, chant, and cheer for whoever is rocking the white uniforms.
In a perfect world, they’d also yell obscenities at the refs after a shitty call, but I assume that’s not going to happen. With that said, the NBA can make it up to me if they can figure out how to make all of the virtual fans react in unison to the “Everybody Clap Your Hands” song.