UFC and boxing have restarted their competitive schedules. So has golf. The NBA and major league baseball are heading back for shortened seasons and soon will be followed by the NFL. At least that’s the plan.
The return of sports on television has been welcomed in the midst of this continuing pandemic and it’s admirable athletes are willing to compete in the midst of COVID-19. But there remains no timetable for the return of fans to be in attendance, and it just hasn’t been the same without them.
Performing amid empty arenas, golf courses and stadiums doesn’t offer the same atmosphere, passion, pageantry and emotion that fans bring to an event, and that’s not going to change until it’s safe to put 10 to 20-thousand people together to cheer what’s going on.
Let’s hope with all the reflection that’s taking place these days owners, promoters, athletes and even the media will treat fans with a little more respect when life gets back to normal.
Fans deserve better. They’ve been taken for granted by ownership trying to find ways to siphon every last dime out of their wallet instead of making attending games a more affordable and memorable experience. The empty seats behind home plate at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are constant reminders of the greed that comes with escalating ticket prices and salaries. Let’s hope the impact of COVID-19 can serve as a reminder that sports aren’t the same without people in the arena reacting to those trying to entertain.
While the NBA heads to Orlando, baseball is preparing to restart a season that never got started and play a 60-game schedule in front of nobody. And while that sounds like a good thing, baseball is already slow enough and will become dreadfully boring without fans to serve as entertainment through three hours of little action. Once the novelty wears off, watching baseball without fans might be the worst thing to happen to the sport.
The only ones not complaining might be the Astros, who would have been subjected to endless heckling after being exposed as cheaters during the offseason. Perhaps the umpires, who tend to get an earful from the stands won’t mind either, and the relief pitcher who gets bombed without recording an out will enjoy a quieter walk to the dugout. The high-priced free agent slugger going through a slump won’t have to worry about getting razzed, and the manager won’t get booed for a questionable double switch.
But who’s going to react when someone hits a walk-off home run or acknowledge a starter who just threw seven shut-out innings or cheer the outfielder who makes a great catch while crashing into a wall or a runner who stretches a double into a triple? Who’s going to stand in unison during a big at-bat or sing during the seventh-inning stretch? Will they even need a seventh-inning stretch?
Fighters beat up each other and golfers are trying to get ball in a hole in the least amount of strokes. Simple. Baseball is game of subtleties that mean a lot. Signs are delivered from the manager to the catcher to the pitcher to the shortstop and to the outfielder. The opposition sends signals from the bench to the hitter and to the runner. Tendencies and averages are constantly analyzed. Lefty or righty? Keep the starter or go to the bullpen? What about a pinch-hitter? What’s a baseball game without fans to react to all this?
Fans have put up with a lot crap in recent years. Late starts, PSLs, players demanding trades over contract disputes, increased ticket prices, spending a fortune on bottled water, players who grumble when asked for an autograph, parking congestion, and being forced, especially in New York, to watch mostly lousy teams. They put up with general managers who no longer feel the need to communicate with them on a regular basis. And they can get booted from an arena for saying the wrong thing to an owner.
Despite all that, fans kept showing up so announcers can talk about “the electricity in the building” and athletes can call themselves entertainers. Basketball and baseball might be coming back, but the fans aren’t. Maybe they’ll be treated better when they do.