How televised sports will be affected by coronavirus pandemic

Nearly every aspect of broadcasting will be altered to adhere to safety protocols. Here’s a look at three: announcers, production crews and crowd noise.

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Without fans in the stands, camera crews will be able to show unique views inside stadiums.

Without fans in the stands, camera crews will be able to show unique views inside stadiums.

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If and when the big four sports leagues return this year, it will be for two reasons, one bigger than the other.

There’s the noble reason, the kind that often leads to those silly “Is it dusty in here?” tweets: It’s all about the fans.

The popularity of “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1990s Bulls, spoke to the void that was left when the sports world stopped spinning because of the coronavirus pandemic. Giving fans their games back would provide a sense of normalcy and the type of distraction the documentary offered.

Then there’s the more realistic and much more cynical reason: money. Billions of dollars are at stake, and with fans unlikely to be allowed at the games, the leagues and teams need TV revenue.

Take MLB, for example. In a presentation to the players’ union obtained by the Associated Press, the commissioner’s office feared a financial crisis if a second wave of the coronavirus in the fall were to wipe out the postseason, which it said accounts for $787 million in media money. The league is proposing an extended postseason to reduce its losses.

Sports need live games, and those games need to be on TV. But those broadcasts are going to feel, look and sound different because of safety protocols that must be in place. Practically every aspect will be affected. Here’s a breakdown of three of those aspects and what could be in store for fans tuning in:

Announcers

On ESPN’s broadcasts of Korea Baseball Organization games in the wee hours of the morning, the announcers have called the action from their homes. While that’s an option for games in the U.S., it’s more likely announcers will work at the stadium and adhere to social distancing.

That shouldn’t be a problem at Guaranteed Rate Field and Wrigley Field. Viewers often see the White Sox’ Jason Benetti and Steve Stone and the Cubs’ Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies with ample space between them. Plus, there’s generally only a stage manager with them in the booth.

But the Bulls’ Neil Funk and Stacey King would need more room courtside, and the Blackhawks’ Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk couldn’t be cooped up in their booth. Perhaps the analysts could work from other locations in the arena to provide different perspectives. They’ll have it all to themselves.

For the overall quality of the broadcast, it’s best for the announcers to be on site, as long as it’s safe. They’ll be better able to describe what’s sure to be a unique scene, and their presence will maintain some normalcy in a broadcast that viewers are accustomed to.

Production crews

Social distancing shouldn’t be a problem for the camera crews. They’re on their own islands anyway. A few more of them could even help the broadcast. Without fans, a camera person could roam the aisles for alternative vantage points.

It’s a different story in the production truck, a confined space with the producer, director and many others. Networks might have to figure out how to produce a broadcast with fewer people or devise ways for some responsibilities to be carried out elsewhere.

Crowd noise

The KBO, which is playing without fans, added crowd noise in the stadiums. On broadcasts, viewers can detect a low hum, which can ratchet up if the situation calls for it.

It sounds like that’s coming to NFL broadcasts. Fox lead announcer Joe Buck said last week on SiriusXM that the network would put crowd noise under the announcers’ voices to maintain the standard feel of a broadcast.

It’s debatable what’s best. If a reason behind showing the games is to provide normalcy for viewers, networks should make them as normal as possible and add ambient noise. On the other hand, viewers will know that fans aren’t making the noise, so there’s no sense purporting there’s a crowd.

Taking that debate to another level, Buck also said Fox is looking at ways to fill empty stands with virtual fans. It begs the question: How far will networks go to give viewers the appearance of normalcy?

That figures to be the tightrope the networks will walk if and when live games return. Whatever production elements they settle on, this much is certain: People will watch.

REMOTE PATROL

  • “The Last Dance” seemingly will never end. ABC will rebroadcast the 10-part series, beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday with Episodes 1 and 2. Two episodes will air each Saturday through June 20.
  • NBC Sports Network will show classic sports-themed episodes of “Saturday Night Live,” beginning with the September 1991 show hosted by Michael Jordan at 7 p.m. Monday.
  • NBC Sports Chicago’s replays of the 2005 White Sox’ World Series run have finally reached the postseason. Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Red Sox will air at 7 p.m. Saturday.
  • The Score will air Super Bowl I between the Packers and Chiefs at 7 p.m. Monday. Jack Drees and Tom Hedrick have the call for CBS Radio.

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