“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?“
This makes me think of the question – If a forward heads the ball into the goal and there is no one in the stadium to clap, did he really score?
Ok, cheer, not clap. That’s a bit of a sensitive topic currently. But, the point remains. Can there be sports without spectators?
Sports is all about the collective emotion – an emotion that is felt on the pitch, carried on to the supporters and amplified by fellow fans. Can sportspersons work from home? Can spectators? Is the most immersive VR experience really as immersive as being a part of a chant in the Stretford End or being a part of one of the magical European nights at Anfield?
A sportsperson is a showman. Can a showman truly thrive if there’s no one to applaud the show? If we look back at history, right from the time of the gladiators, sports have flourished when there is an audience. To encourage, judge and even heckle. It simply doesn’t work without it. Even in mythology, events of importance have always had an audience. Look at all the swayamvaras. When there is no audience, does the game continue? And if the game stops, is it just the players that get affected? Definitely not!
So, where does this leave us in the post covid-19 world? That’s assuming the post covid-19 world is hopefully not more than a few weeks away. What effects will this pandemic have on the industry of sports? To start with, all organisations currently engaged with live sporting events – broadcast companies, event management, travel & ticketing companies, hospitality companies, F&B companies, service agencies – will surely see their bottom lines decreasing. The domino effect that sets off might see job cuts across the board. Will it be limited to only organisations in the live events space? Not really. Without the actual sport, everything leading up to it also gets hampered. So, education, technology, hardware – everything gets affected. Perhaps we will see the rise and rise of E-Sports and E-Athletes, with ticketing seeing an early entry into the market of developing countries. On an aside, with the past success of Marshmello’s VR concert in PUBG and Lindsey Stirling’s purely virtual concert streamed on YouTube, perhaps we may see a growth in the augmented reality sectors. Additionally, streaming will see a pick-up in the short term. Indeed, WWE’s recently concluded WrestleMania was carried out quite successfully with the help of their own network and pay-per-view model. The show was pre-recorded, shot over the course of two days in front of an empty stadium, with players staying in a WWE camp where testing was ensured. But how does this work for sports like Football and Cricket where a minimum of 22 players are on the field at any given time, breaking the health and safety guidelines? With broadcasters and advertisers calling for a refund for their fees if the season isn’t concluded, the leagues are in quite a quandary. But when the health and safety of the players and personnel is at stake, the scales aren’t so easily measured. In that case, what alternatives are possible? Perhaps the setting up of a safe zone for the clubs to conclude the season? But that brings with it its own set of questions and conundrums about sparing health services for non-essential reasons.
Is this the right time to be worrying about this, though? Well, I’d say – yes. When this blows over, and blow over it will, how does the sports industry ensure that it is protected? Now is the time to think and put in motion plans for the long-term future of the sports world. After all, the one who solves this problem – or makes the best of this situation – may well be poised to become the new leader in this sector.
- Written by Aritra Chatterjee, edited by Pritesh Patil.