BOYS OF SUMMER
Some sports are managing lack of fans caused by coronavirus better than others
One thing’s for sure: You’ve never seen a sports season like this one. It’s late August, and last weekend you could watch four NBA playoff games in a single day?
Watch the NHL in full Stanley Cupplayoff mode?
Watch the Indianapolis 500, which usually takes place in May?
Of course, the operative word here is watch. More precisely, watch on TV, because the idea of lots of spectators — or even anybody — attending these events is something of an anachronism.
People are learning, swiftly and sadly, to stay away from each other, especially from crowds. (That is, if you’re not at a beach party in Wisconsin or with protesters boycotting Costco over its mask-wearing policy.)
A pandemic changes the world in many ways, and some of those ways will not be fully apparent until the coronavirus has been wrestled into submission.
Might we perhaps get used to not attending games en masse? To not getting close to human strangers, even if they’re wearing our team’s colors? To wearing masks, even when it’s not Halloween? It might happen.
This is a moment for lots of things to change. A big one: TV reworking camera technology, angles and all the things that might more stimulate fans who aren’t leaving their Barca-Loungers again.
I have a bunch of takeaways from recent viewings. Let’s go by sport:
The fake NBA ‘‘crowds’’ in the stands in the Disney bubble almost have started to seem normal. Players jump around while on the sideline, the noise is pumped in and, if you weren’t real perceptive, you might think this was a regular league venue.
Because a basketball court is so small, the fan void doesn’t grate much. In fact, it’s wonderful there are no swells holding beers and reading cellphones so close to the sidelines or jammed cameramen on the baseline, terrible obstacles for players.
Athletes are way more athletic when they know they can soar past the basket or dive past the sidelines without risking a broken ankle, gashed face or ‘‘hilarious’’ crash into some Hollywood star or bejeweled rapper dressed in a sweatsuit.
Three-point-shooting success from the baseline corners is way up because there’s no distraction behind the shooters. And free throws have been out-of-control good since the glass is just that: clear glass. No Playboy centerfolds or huge, waving cardboard heads to distract.
Consider that the Jazz’s backcourt of Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley were 23-for-24 from the line Sunday. Mitchell has missed two of his 44 free throws in the playoffs.
Biggest thing? No home-court advantage and no exhausting, back-to-back road games, those atrocities wherein the visiting team shows up simply to check the calendar and lose.
Not good. Ballparks are so vast and balls fly out of so many places — making emptiness shots obligatory — that the games look like they’re being played in endof-times zombie shopping malls. Three and a half hours of that?
Lord, the silence and emptiness make each punch and grunt sound like death. Hideous. Like fighting in a chain-linked zombie parking lot, maybe with baseball next door.
Not bad, though the tarped-off stands make it appear at times as though games are being held after the popcorn has been swept up and the help has gone home.
But the horns blast after goals, and guys still fight. Yay.
Hasn’t happened yet, but . . .
No Big Ten. No Pac-12.
But the folks in the SEC, ACC and Big 12 are taking their virus chances. Good luck!
Oh, yeah, parents of some Big Ten players protested Friday in front of the conference offices in Rosemont. They just want their boys to play. Understandable, but pandemics suck, folks.
The NFL is planning to play, and we’ll see how that looks and sounds with basically empty stands in those huge stadiums. Imagine Soldier Field without drunks screaming for a new quarterback. Wow, crazy.
No problem here. Two guys walking along trimmed pastures without having to smile and tipping their caps gently every so often.
You’re supposed to shush when golfers hit or putt — if you run, look at your banned cellphone or holler at the wrong time at the Masters, you’ll be tossed out forever — so no people is no big deal.
Except for the sneaky body-sign cheating of coaches in the stands, it’s the same deal as golf.
One last thing: Remember when there was going to be a 2020 Tokyo Olympics?
The NBA has done a good job of making things seem as close to normal as possible in its Disney bubble. Players jump around on the sideline, and noise is pumped in.
Seas of empty seats have been problematic for the atmosphere for games in the Stanley Cup playoffs and Major League Baseball.