Andy Phillips, a soccer fan from Kent, England, has a modest expectation for the games he watches on television: that what he is seeing and hearing is real and actually happening.
The coronavirus pandemic has made this complicated.
Watching a German soccer game at home on a recent weekend afternoon, Phillips, 53, was “aghast” to find that the TV network had layered artificial crowd noise over the live broadcast from the stadium, which had been closed to spectators because of the pandemic and was therefore mostly silent.
He listened, “psychologically annoyed,” as the fake crowd cheered for goals, booed for rough fouls and hummed with anticipation when the ball drifted close to the penalty area.
“It was horrendous, to be honest,” he said. “Not because I don’t enjoy the sound of crowd noise, but the fact it was fake.”
As professional sports have tiptoed back to the playing field, league officials and television executives around the world seem to have come to a consensus: that sporting events without the accompaniment of crowd noise are simply too jarring, too unfamiliar and too boring for the typical fan to endure.
And so prerecorded crowd audio tracks have quickly become the go-to solution for live showings of such disparate sports as Hungarian soccer, South Korean baseball and Australian rugby.
For every fan like Phillips, who finds the embrace of aural artifice bizarre and existentially troubling — “Who needs people in the ground, when you create your own atmosphere?” he said — there are also those for whom the simulated noise provides feelings of comfort and normalcy.
“Anything is better than hearing the echoes around a quiet stadium,” said Hunter Fauci, 24, of Highlands, N.Y., a member of the American fan club of the German team Borussia Mönchengladbach who appreciated the artificial noise. “Silence would make a lot of fans depressed.”
These sonic sleights of hand, then, can be polarizing. But they are about to become even more prominent in the coming weeks as other major leagues inch back to competition.
For instance, Joe Buck, the Fox Sports play-by-play announcer, said last month on SiriusXM Radio that it was “pretty much a done deal” that the N.F.L. would use artificial fan noise for its live game broadcasts this year if games were played in empty stadiums.
When it returns this week, England’s Premier League will offer viewers simulated crowd noise with help from the Electronic Arts’s “FIFA” soccer video game series. (While audiences in the Premier League and Bundesliga’s home countries have the option to switch between audio feeds on parallel channels, television viewers in the United States watching on NBC and Fox networks will get the augmented audio as the default for these leagues.)
Spain’s La Liga returned last week, also with virtual stadium sounds borrowed from “FIFA.” Similarly, The Athletic reported earlier this month that the N.B.A. had discussed the possibility of using audio from the “N.B.A. 2K” video games to enliven its own broadcasts.
Reactions to having the quietude of real life smothered by manufactured noise have ranged from dystopian anxiety to resignation to relief.
Twenty years ago, CBS drew criticism when the network used taped nature sounds to brighten up a broadcast of the PGA Championships; avian experts noticed some non-indigenous bird calls chirping out of their speakers. But today’s circumstances seem to have created a more welcoming environment for experimentation.
“We’re kind of in a try-anything mode,” said Bob Costas, the longtime sports announcer. “You just don’t want it to sound like the laugh track on a bad ‘60s sitcom.”
But old-school canned laughter may be the most fitting reference point for what is happening now.
Alessandro Reitano, vice president of sports production at Sky Germany, said the goal of the Bundesliga’s “enhanced audio” initiative was to “forget a little bit that you’re seeing an empty stadium” — an effort that has also involved the increased use of up-close camera angles — and to elevate the atmosphere beyond the feeling of “kids playing in the park.”
Viewers, this way, could get immersed again in the narrative of a game. Emotions could be stimulated.
Still, Bundesliga officials were hesitant about the project. Fans in Germany take particular pride in the organic and democratic quality of sports in the country, and in recent years anything that has appeared to de-emphasize the importance of live audiences, especially in the service of television, has drawn an intense backlash.
But because of the unprecedented circumstances, the league went ahead crafting a proprietary system in which a soundboard with more than a dozen carefully selected audio samples — as specific as a nervous crescendo of applause while a team chases an equalizing goal or lusty jeers for a call overturned by video review — sits at the disposal of an operator watching from a studio in Munich.
“They have this imagined sense of what the spectacle should be and how the consumer should experience it, and they manipulate the representations of it to produce that for the consumer, and it’s just taken to the nth degree,” David Andrews, a professor of sports culture at the University of Maryland, said of these leagues and television networks. “Baudrillard would have gone mad with this.”
Jean Baudrillard, the French theoretician, postulated that simulated experiences were replacing real life in postindustrial society.
Updated June 12, 2020
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.
How does blood type influence coronavirus?
A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.
How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.
Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?
Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.
How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?
Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.
My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?
States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)
Should I wear a mask?
The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
He described a media-saturated culture moving toward the realm of what he and other critics called hyper-reality, a state where the simulated can be more prominent than the authentic and where images and copies can be considered realer than real life.
(It may be worth remembering, as well, that Baudrillard once described Disneyland as “a perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulation,” a fantasy representation of an idealized image of American life, as the N.B.A. and Major League Soccer finalize plans to resume their seasons this summer at Disney World.)
“We can look at sports and see how close we are moving toward that model,” said Richard Giulianotti, a sports sociologist at Loughborough University in England.
Once, long ago, watching a game on TV felt akin to eavesdropping on a party happening at some faraway place. Now games are specifically tailored as made-for-TV spectacles, and the screen — in your living room, on your phone — is where the action is.
Examples of sports’ long journey toward hyper-reality abound: electronic screens that instruct fans to cheer; luxury boxes that recreate the plush feeling of a living room inside a stadium; instant replay and video-assisted referee systems; digital strike zones and glowing first down markers; e-sports.
Whether this is a good or bad thing is left to the observer to decide.
Two months ago, Ross Hawkins, 44, a software developer from Auckland, New Zealand, sat down to watch WrestleMania 36, the professional wrestling event, which took place this year without fans.
The absence of crowd noise, he said, “killed sports” for him.
Several weeks later, Hawkins tuned in to watch Australia’s National Rugby League, which restarted play late last month with fake crowd sounds. The gentle hum of the fake crowd washed over him, and his mind felt suddenly at ease. He forgot the world had been turned upside down by a virus. He could enjoy sports again.
“As a reasonably intelligent person, I knew it was fake, and I didn’t expect it to make such a difference, but it did,” Hawkins said. “It feels like it’s the brain clamoring for some normalcy in 2020.”