For at least the first two home games of the season, any Packer doing a Lambeau Leap will perform it into empty stands and there will be no Terrible Towels because there will be no Steeler fans at Heinz Field.
And we will be hearing this joke: The Jacksonville Jaguars are going to play home games in front of a significantly reduced number of fans this season.
“How’s that different than any other year?”
The majority of the NFL’s teams — 21 in all — have said they will not have fans in September. Five teams have said they will not have fans at all this season. Five others — Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Miami and Jacksonville — expect to have fans when the season begins. The Dallas Cowboys have not released details of their plans, but previously said they expect to have fans in attendance.
The 49ers announced this week that there will be no fans in attendance for their Sept. 13 game against Arizona. The club said it will continue to work with officials about future home games.
Raiders owner Mark Davis emailed season-ticket holders on Aug. 24 telling them that fans will not be allowed at home games this season.
Bills coach Sean McDermott described the lack of league-wide uniformity regarding the presence of spectators at NFL games as being “ridiculous” after AFC East rival Miami announced it would allow up to 13,000 fans into its stadium for its home opener against the Bills on September 20.
But, as Pittsburgh Steeler head coach Mike Tomlin told the Associated Press, “I think we all acknowledged very early in the summer — by ‘we’ I mean us, globally, the NFL — that as we faced this pandemic, some of the competitive fairness things are going to be tough to manage. And attendance is one of them.”
But there may be an equalizer. The NFL is reportedly considering a plan to bring crowd noise into the stadiums with no fans present.
As Shanna McCarriston wrote for CBS Sports, “In any other year, an NFL team pumping in crowd noise would be a scandal. In 2020, it could be the norm.”
The NFL is expected to allow 80 decibels of piped-in noise, the volume many teams are already using during training camp practices and scrimmages. Eighty decibels equate to being in heavy traffic or next to a lawnmower. Anything above 85 is considered dangerous.
Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium holds the record for the loudest NFL game. Chiefs fans registered 142.4 decibels on Sept. 29, 2014, while hosting the Patriots.
NFL players and coaches commented on the piped-in plan for 2020.
“Who controls the volume on that?” asked Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey in an interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “If you get a homer that slips that volume a little bit louder on third down, I’m not sure I’m for that a lot.”
The 49ers practiced Friday on the Levi’s Stadium field, in part to assimilate to artificial crowd noise.
“Right now I’m hearing you have to press ‘play’ at the beginning of the game, and you can’t turn it off until the end of the game,” said 49er head coach Kyle Shanahan. “So that means we’re helping both teams when we’re at home. There’s a lot I don’t know about yet. I have lots of ideas.”
The piped-in noise will benefit a team like the Los Angeles Chargers, whose fans are generally outnumbered by fans of the opposing team.
But it could hurt the Minnesota Vikings, who are accustomed to high-volume noise from their hometown fans. As Mike Florio wrote for NBC Sports, “… the sound under normal circumstances will be lower when the Vikings have the ball and higher (significantly) when the Vikings are playing defense. Replacing that with artificial noise that remains at the same level for both teams at all times would not simulate normal crowd noise in that venue, largely wiping out Minnesota’s home-field advantage.”
Because nothing has been finalized, it’s unknown whether artificial noise will be used to enhance the sound naturally created in places where partial crowds will be present.
Last Saturday the Rams got a taste of fake crowd noise during the team’s first scrimmage at its new SoFi Stadium, with its more than 70,000 seats empty.
Head coach Sean McVay was not impressed.
“There’s nothing like real crowd noise,” McVay told Sports Illustrated. “In some instances that fake crowd noise is nothing but irritating. But once you focus on what’s going on in between those white lines, that’s all that really matters.”
Rams quarterback Jared Goff was less critical, saying, “I’m still waiting, just like everyone else, on what the league decides as far as crowd noise is going to go. I’ve heard different reports on decibel levels and whatnot. I’m not sure at where we had it today, but it was at a comfortable level — it wasn’t at anything that would cause any issues for anybody.”
Will players be able to feed off of artificial crowd noise the way they do the real thing?
“I think it varies from player to player,” Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Tayor Lewan told the Tennessean. “There is a level of excitement when you have a bunch of fans going off for sure. Energy and excitement are two things that kind of go hand-in-hand. However when you go and play football it takes a few snaps, and when guys get tired, the fans kind of go away and you’re playing a football game. It’s a one-on-one matchup. Things kind of space out when you get into a flow state and play those games.”