May 14, 2020 5 min read

Empty stadiums, full broadcasts?

Good morning, frents …

So Lori Lightfoot wants to add another star to Chicago’s flag to commemorate the city’s response to coronavirus. Apparently there’s no better way to honor the time our medical workers kicked ass while the rest of us either threw illicit house parties or created Lightfoot stay-home memes in hopes they’d go viral on Twitter.

But the Tribune had it right in 2016: Four stars is enough until the end of time.

Plus I don’t really want to pay to change my graphics.

How TV will deal with empty Chicago stadiums

Pre-recorded fan noise. Computer-animated fans. Cardboard cutouts in the stands.

Everything is on the table as networks move toward the inevitability they’ll be broadcasting games in empty stadiums this summer, fall and maybe into next year.

As we’ve already seen with a fanless Wrestlemania and UFC, it’s just not quite the same without people yelling and screaming during the moments that call for yelling and screaming. The networks that broadcast the four major sports have been taking notes and making plans to make things more cozy whenever the games resume.

One thing we can count on is fan noise being piped-in, Fox broadcast Joe Buck told SiriusXM’s Andy Cohen Live.

“It’s pretty much a done deal,” Buck said.  “I think whoever is going to be at that control is going to have to be really good at their job and be realistic with how a crowd would react depending on what just happened on the field.”

Another possibility is animated fans being placed in the background of tight shots, though one producer told the NY Post’s Andrew Marchand the technology might not exactly be ready for prime time.

From my viewpoint, it seems like the networks would be better off not BS’ing us — no one is going to forget there’s no one at Soldier Field — and instead give us bells and whistles to enhance the experience at home. That could include everything from miked-up players, leaning on celebrity guests and announcers (as long as they’re judiciously picked) and implementing participation technology like giving fans at home the chance to predict plays via an app.

If they try all of that, I wouldn’t be against Marquee testing my imagination with some selective editing. The network could dive into the archives and splice in old clips of young kids eating ice-cream, old people wearing funny hats and young people getting tans under the sun at Wrigley Field.

Maybe we’d even get a shot of the Shawon-o-Meter.

It’s worth a shot.

Assuming that our five biggest teams all end up playing in front of no one at some point, what team will be the most jarring to watch playing in front of no one?

My thoughts:

5. White Sox: All easy jokes by Cubs fans aside, watching games at an empty Sox Park is something the city has experience with.

4. Blackhawks: Let’s be honest: The United Center crowd hasn’t been a good one ever since the team started winningand Hawks games turned into one of the city’s best selfie spots. I think it’s been at least a decade since a regular-season game got really loud. (Don’t get me wrong: If that was the price of three banners, I’d make that trade again and again.)

3. Cubs: It’ll be strange not to see everyone rising on a 3-2 count in a key situation, but we did get a partial test run when the bleachers were closed the first month of the 2015 season. We’ll see how far the ivy and sunshine really goes at home.

2. Bulls: They’d be No. 1 if they were more relevant. NBA fans are closest to the action and inescapable in almost any crowd shot. Who’s going to wave balloons behind the opposing team’s backboard or mug for the camera as Jim Boylen draws up a play for a team that isn’t watching?

1. Bears: The XFL just conditioned some of us to football without crowds. But not even the world’s best sound engineer will be able to replicate the roar that comes when Khalil Mack flattens Aaron Rodgers. On the bright side, maybe Mitch’s self-esteem stays high without any boos after the season’s first drive at home?

Have a link for Midway Minute? Email me!

JB Pritzker apologized for his Tuesday comments on baseball players. “I absolutely support their right (to collectively bargain),” he said. (Tribune)

Gary Bettman vowed on Wednesday the NHL will return this season. (CBC Sports)

Prince Amukamara has a new home with the Raiders. (NBC Sports)

The Red Stars named Lindsay Eanet their new public address announcer. She’s the only female PA announcer for a city sports team. (Hot Time In Old Town)

Last Dance director Jason Hehir responded to Ken Burns’ criticism. (Awful Announcing)

Jon Greenberg emptied his notebook of good Jordan-era media anecdotes. I need him to shake it once more to see if he has any more Larry King and Mark Giangreco stories in there.  (The Athletic)

Brian Hamilton and two friends did an all-time Illini basketball player draft. Good picks, but I’ll 5recommend my old Bartlett rec league teammate Sean Harrington as an excellent free-agent signing. (The Athletic)

If you haven’t seen the Chicago Bears uniform concepts from @cgersk yet. Here are two I’d love to see the Bears in at some point. Also, is it sacrilegious to say I’d be intrigued about replacing the helmet ‘C’ with the Bears logo? Because I am.

• This is a non-sequitir #dadlink, but I read Babar to my girls for the first time last night and forgot just how bananas that book is from the get-go as his mother gets iced by a hunter right in front of him! I was actually going to write about it somewhere, but Matt Ufford beat me to it by nailing every beat of the age-old tale of a young elephant responding to his mother’s brutal murder by moving to the city, getting a sugar momma, buying a bunch of fancy clothes, driving around a car and eventually marrying his cousin before becoming king. I haven’t been this weirded out since the end of The Giving Tree. (Deadspin)

And … yep, I better just end it there. Have a rocking Thursday with all these t-storms that are coming. As always, thank you for being a #frentofthenewsletter.


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Kevin Kaduk
Kevin Kaduk
Kevin is the founder of Midway Minute.

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