Fenway tries artificial crowd noise: Dumb or Dope?

Alex Verdugo (Photo: AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
With COVID-19 causing sports to look and sound like it never has in the past, the NBA has opted for a bubble in Disneyland to see through the remainder of the 2019-20 season so that a champion can be crowned. While I have previously critiqued Major League Baseball's attempt at salvaging a season, the new format poses many questions and thought experiments. Just like with sports across the globe, if a season will happen, it'll be without fans in the seats. As Red Sox fans, experiencing a summer without the electricity at Fenway Park, the Sweet Carolines reverberating through the Boston night, and the faithful and sometimes foolish fandom of Sox lovers in the bleachers and grandstands alike will be odd to say the least, dare I say wrong.

As with many other leagues, teams across the sport will play without their home crowds in attendance, except maybe the Rockies for some reason.
Professional American sports without fans in attendance is disturbing to think about, but for MLB, it won't be the first time playing a game without fans in attendance. It'll be the second. When Baltimore was the home of protests and a public safety scare due to the death of Freddie Gray in 2015, the Red Sox were involved when their visit to Camden Yards had to be locked down. Due to scheduling concerns, the Orioles rescheduled a few of their games but still hosted one game without a delay when they played the White Sox at Camden Yards, simply locking out fans and allowing only team personnel and select media into the ballpark.

What resulted was a slew of home runs, some faint crowd cheering from outside the gates, some golf announcing from Orioles broadcaster Gary Thorne, and a subsequent Saturday Night Live skit commemorating the then-rare occasion.

But with empty seats on the verge of becoming the norm in 2020 sports, MLB teams are in the process of discovering ways to manage the environment at their home ballparks. According to a recent report from basketball commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA, attempting to finish their season in empty arenas in Orlando, may use piped-in crowd noise that will be imported from the well-known video game, NBA 2K. Whether or not they will go this route is still under consideration and as you can imagine, the fans are already split on this notion — is it dumb or dope?

Over in Europe, we see more of the same, with some soccer leagues already implementing artificial crowd noise. Unsurprisingly, soccer fans have already been vocal about this and the vibe around the leagues have leaned towards negativity.

An alliance of fans across more than a dozen European countries launched a campaign Wednesday against the artificial crowd noise, saying, “augmented reality technology, pre-recorded chants, and other forms of artificial support represent a rebuke to match-going fans.” — Fox News

What about baseball? 

The Red Sox have clearly already considered the notion of artificial crowd noise. Earlier this week, in an intrasquad game, the Sox experimented with the notion of simulated cheers via the Fenway Park PA system.
Do you love it? Are you going to be weirded out by a quiet K by Nathan Eovaldi or a peaceful double play turned by Devers, Bogaerts, and Moreland? Are you going to cringe in desperation for some noise when J.D. Martinez goes deep for the first time? Or will you be intrigued by the notion and enjoy the pure sounds that come from a baseball game, some that many of you haven't really experienced since you played college baseball or even Little League?

Personally, I say screw the artificial noise for baseball. Hear me out. 2K sounds for the NBA? Big fan, why not? Pre-recorded crowd chants for soccer or the NFL? I'm actually all in!

But baseball? HELL NO. Baseball's different. The crack of the bat, the pop of the mitt, the slide into second base, the clank off the foul pole — baseball is made different. If you have played baseball at any level in your life, you know that some of those sounds are too unique. Have a look at this Dodgers intrasquad game, which I've hand-picked for the sound quality, not because I want you to watch more Mookie Betts baseball in another uniform (I promise).

Am I thrilled that I can't go to Fenway and scream at the top of my lungs? Don't even talk about it. But if I'm watching the game on TV, do I really want to hear some random noise behind the NESN broadcast? No, I want to hear all the little things that we usually miss out on when we're not playing baseball. I seriously think individual organizations will just do whatever they want with PA sounds, probably after asking the players what they think, so I'm curious about how Red Sox players feel about hearing jarring crowd noises from the sky. Speaking of the players, remember when Rob Manfred said we're finally going to get some regular mic'd up players moments on the field? Why can't I just get the silence to be able to hear the players through the broadcast?

Either way, after 108 years, Fenway Park will finally find out what it's like to host a Florida baseball team. Assuming they don't ruin this with random noise. Let us know what you think — do you want the artificial noise or do you want the eerie silence with the occasional echoes?

Follow the author at @AhaanRungta, listen to his sports podcast, and read more Red Sox content here.