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Will I Still Watch and Bet on Football with No Fans in the Stands?

To answer that question: I’m not sure. I’m not saying no to football with no crowds, I’m just suggesting we take a step back and examine this idea from all angles before jumping in headfirst.

On Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke with Good Luck America’s Peter Hamby on how to bring sports back to America. On a solution, he said, “There’s a way of doing that – nobody comes to the stadium.”

Well, that’s a big thought to absorb.

He continued: “Put them in big hotels … just let them play the season out.”

Look, I want sports back just as much as the next person, but having no fans in a stadium is a big thought – one that needs some consideration before you just go firing away with, “yes, give me anything.”

Some folks in the sports world are ecstatic over this declaration. Warren Sharp, for one, said “You had me at hello.”

Kelly in Vegas joked “Why not, KU (Kansas) football has been doing it for years.”

I get it. We want something, anything, we’ll take what we can get. But let me be contrarian and offer a few things to consider.

My Concerns

Psychological Aspects

These are athletes. With empty seats, will they still feel like athletes or will it feel more like work? These athletes play for their cities, their families, their friends. Take that out of the equation and who are they playing for? Their owners? Their general managers? That thing people say, find something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life – eliminating crowds could quickly change a player’s mindset.

Taking the Fun Out of It

Touchdown! And the crowd goes … silent! There is no crowd. What will touchdown celebrations resemble? Who are they celebrating for? Imagine a Lambeau leap. It’s been around since 1993 and now it’s going to look either entirely different or cease to exist because what’s the point, after all?

There’s a good chance that players might just score and move on. Ultimately, games would become just an elevated training camp.

Will Wins Come with an Asterisk?

The quarterback of the visiting team is no longer put at the disadvantage of being unable to call out a play above the din of a roaring crowd. This will now entirely level the playing field. Can you say a collegiate player’s accomplishments in 2020 would equate to those of a player in 2019? Does his scholarship value depreciate? Do players even still get scholarships valued to that of 2019 if classes remain online? Does a 2021 draft prospect have the same luster that he would have in previous years? I think these are valid questions.

A team needing to convert a fourth down will no longer face the same obstacles and if it’s the home team, they will be lacking the support of the home crowd to assist. It’s called the 12th man for a reason.

What about huddles? Players would have to be so quiet to prevent the other team from hearing play calls. Can a defense successfully throw off an audible because of their ability to hear a change being made? The level of play could potentially be better on both sides of the ball. Consider that everything could be enhanced.

How No Crowds Could Affect Sports Betting

I like betting on underdogs. I don’t just like taking the plus on a spread but I like taking the plus moneyline. Take away the element of a crowd and will I be inclined to take a dog? Or do you now take the favorite? The simple answer to this is wait and see. I will be logical and not put my money on a game until I have at least a few weeks of data to analyze how no crowds affects the dynamics.

What I can see for myself is my bankroll being lowered in comparison to previous years because in a worst case, the season comes to a screeching halt like it did with the NBA, because COVID-19 makes a second appearance.

From a sportsbook’s perspective, they may hate no crowds. This could be a season where the sports bettor can actually beat the book. One thing to consider: kickers are no longer for losers. I think the potential is there for them to nail more extra points and field goals because the added pressure of a live audience is no longer there. Teams can cover and games may play out just as the stats predict.

Improvements I’d Like to See

I’ll tell you what, there’d better be zero mistakes from referees – no debates about what constitutes a catch or pass interference, or whether a player crossed the plane for a touchdown. If you’re going to eliminate the crowd, then ramp up the accuracy.

Add more cameras, get footage from additional angles, increase the review staff upstairs, and even add more referees on the field. Give us improved officiating. This is the season to test things because why not? No crowds are already brand new, so try out other things that could improve the overall viewing pleasure for the fans who can now only watch on television.

The crowd element adds so many more variables and a dynamic to sports you can’t experience with anything else. Let’s take a play from the XFL and put a mic on coaches, refs and even some players – test different options. Take what the XFL did well and apply it to other leagues, including football.

If we are going to have sports with no crowds, the leagues should be empathetic to their fans, think outside the box and consider ways to add the human connection.

Look, I’m just as hungry for sports as you but my question is – are we so thirsty for sports that we would sacrifice the elements that make up the game we love? Let’s examine all options, changes and possibilities before proceeding.