I grew up watching TV sitcoms that used “laugh tracks” to enhance the viewer’s experience.
Shows like The Andy Griffth Show, Bewitched, The Brady Bunch and The Munsters dropped in the laugh track at a funny moment and it made the material funnier, at least to me, though not always. The laughter from a real studio audience of a sitcom was usually better though the laugh tracks without a studio audience didn’t annoy me as long as I liked the show.
Just the same, I’m not a big fan of using piped-in crowd noise when televising baseball games or other sporting events that are limiting the number of fans allowed to the contest, if they allow any because of the coronavirus pandemic.
FOX Sports, for example, has been using shots of “virtual crowds” and the piped-in crowd noise when broadcasting MLB games from what is a nearly empty stadium except for the playing field, dugouts and bullpen.
“We wanted to make it as normal as possible,” said FOX Sports executive Brad Zager. “This is what a Major League Baseball game should look and feel like. What we’re going for is normalcy and authenticity. We’re not trying to fool anybody. If there’s a few seconds where we can make it feel like a Major League Baseball stadium, that’s what we’re going for.”
I don’t mind the cardboard fan cutouts in the seats. That can be fun if they use the images of real people.
The Rangers are selling a DoppelRanger 2D image of fans for $50, with the proceeds going to the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation. That would be cool to see your face on TV in the stands at Globe Life Field even if you weren’t there. I haven’t been to the Rangers’ new ball park yet but it would be cool if my photo got there before I did.
But I find the simulated crowd noise more annoying than helpful while watching a baseball game on TV. It’s just kind of weird to hear the normal buzz of 30,000 fans while knowing the stands are nearly empty. And to hear the “fake” crowd noise after a player hits a home run, well, that doesn’t enhance my TV viewing experience. I don’t need canned cheering to make me happy that a Ranger player hit a home run. And if I’m watching a game between teams other than the Rangers, I wouldn’t be cheering home runs hit by either team. So I don’t much care to hear “fake” cheers.
The other part of it is, how many booing sounds will be used? If these were real crowds, the Houston Astros players would be hearing real boos from road crowds who are still mad at them over their sign-stealing scandal, when they used a camera system to steal the signs of the catcher and then passed on warnings to the batter when an offspeed pitch was called by the catcher. The Astros deserve to be booed!
Usually when a player leaves a team to get paid better by an opponent, he’s booed at his next appearance at his previous team’s ball park. Will boos be piped-in when that batter walks up to the plate?
I’m reading that FOX Sports is considering using the simulated crowd noise for broadcasts of NFL games, too. How much booing would be used for TV broadcasts at Philadelphia Eagles’ home games? The Eagles fans are notorious for booing Santa Claus.
What about when the Washington football team visits AT&T Stadium? Would “fake” booing be used when that team takes the field or gets a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Cowboys for a late hit?
I like how CBS Sports has been televising the PGA golf tournaments. The TV cameras follow the action well. The viewers get solid play-by-play announcing by Jim Nantz, who played golf at the University of Houston, plus expert commentary by Nick Faldo and others. But no fake crowd noise. I’m fine with that.
If the piped-in crowd noise becomes too much of a problem, there’s always the mute button on the remote.
David Claybourn is sports editor of the Herald-Banner.