No fans, no problem


So far, so good. That is my review of sporting events and telecasts in the COVID-19 pandemic-forced era of no fans

The National Hockey League was the latest test case with exhibition games opening up on Wednesday. I caught about a period-and-a-half of the game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, and if I would have closed my eyes and just listened to the NBCSN production, it would have sounded like a normal NHL game.

You could hear the sound of the skates on the ice, the pucks hitting the sticks and the chatter. They had a public address announcer and played music during stoppages. There were goal horns and goal songs. There was even crowd noise pumped specifically into the telecast as opposed to being played in the arena.

Granted, the level of noise and the different crowd reactions that take place over the course of a game weren't where or how they would normally be, but it didn't take away from my overall viewing experience. To their credit, the NHL is making the best of a bad situation. 

The league also made a smart choice by covering up the lower bowl seats. They probably have business in mind since they should be able to sell advertising or signage for those prime areas, but it just looks better than having empty seats. The empty seats are a constant reminder that the game is being played in a mostly empty building despite the crowd noise, music and other normal in game features.

All Major League Baseball teams should be doing the same thing.

I watched three telecasts last week when the MLB season opened. In Washington, the Nationals had some tarps over outfield seats, but everything was empty behind home plate. The Mets used plenty of cardboard cutouts at Citi Field behind home plate, up the first and third base lines and even in a section of outfield seats.

FOX worked in virtual fans for its national telecast of the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Bravo! Count me in for virtual fans. I thought FOX should have used it more often than they did. I know they're fake, but living in the land of make believe is better than seeing empty seats on every pitch for three hours.

You can have some fun with the cardboard cutouts, too. You could get pictures of former players for each franchise and have them in the stands. The Mets even had cutouts of some of their players' dogs. One was hit by a home run and showed no sign of any damage, so they must be durable.

I've now seen golf, auto racing, horse racing, soccer, baseball and hockey without any fans at the venues, and not once have I thought it was unwatchable. There's only one sport, although it's more entertainment than sport, that is unwatchable without fans and it's wrestling. I've tried to watch a few times and it just doesn't work without the crowd participation and reactions in the show.

Other than that, so far, so good.