On the Likelihood of NFL Football Being Played in Empty Stadiums

| May 20th, 2020

There is a strong belief in the sports world that the NFL is full steam ahead.

No schedule delay.

No looking back.

The league faced the possibility of severe backlash by allowing their free agency period to go forward, handing out millions upon millions of dollars as the country nose-dove into broken digital unemployment platforms. Instead they dominated the sports news cycle for weeks.

There were endless debates regarding their desire to hold the draft. They never wavered, held the event, and received some of the best notices the shield has ever received.

The much-maligned, and factually-terrible Roger Goodell, is on a heater.

But the likelihood of fans being in attendance for NFL football this fall is veering closer and closer to nil. Governor Newsom in California and Governor Whitmer in Michigan have both, in effect, ruled out large gatherings in their respective states. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Phil Murphy of New Jersey have seemingly done the same. Those four states alone house 21,9% of the league. So what will it mean for the league if the games are played in empty buildings? Here are some thoughts.

  • Will home field advantage be a thing? It shouldn’t be. It’s difficult to play in Kansas City and Seattle because of the fans. But offensive communication will be extremely easy without 70,000 roaring lunatics. Hell, teams might not even need headsets.
  • The energy level of players will be worth watching. Players feed off the crowd. They feed off the player introductions. They feed off celebrating big interceptions and touchdowns. Why would they introduce the players to an empty building? Why would a receiver dance in the end zone? These guys have been hearing cheers since they were playing pee-wee ball down the park. The adulation fuels their performance.
  • There won’t be any “pumped in” crowd noise controversies. It won’t make sense for the Colts to pump in fake crowd noise when there’s no real crowd, will it? (They’ll probably still do it.)
  • The violence of the game will be more obvious, audible. If you’re ever lucky enough to see an NFL game from the sideline (or seats down below), three things stand out: the speed, the size and the sound. Having no fans in the stands will allow the television viewing audience to fully appreciate the game’s impacts. These guys go through a series of car crashes every Sunday. Now, we’ll hear the screeching tires and smashed bumpers.
  • If they mic up the sidelines, they’ll be on tape delay. Coaches curse. Non-stop. All game long. And they say some truly vile shit.

It will be a unique and bizarre experience. (Anybody who has tuned in to the Bundesliga matches in empty stadiums will attest to that.) But it will also be a specific test for these organizations. Without fans, the emotion required on Sundays will need to be entirely self-generated by the players. The teams most effective at generating said emotion should be the most successful in 2020.