By Scotty Mincher
The return of multiple sports has been splendid and a sight for sore eyes. But as wonderful as it is to be able to watch sports again, that doesn’t mean that things don’t feel a little different. I think just about everyone will agree that the most significant difference is the reality of no fans in the stadiums. But how much of the impact of no fans at the game actually affects the outcome? For this story, we’ll take a look at the level of importance fans play during a game, as well as go over how much they are truly missed in specific sports. When taking a look at the three sports I know best, that being baseball, basketball, and football no fans at the games affect all three of these sports in different ways.
When it comes to baseball, I think fans are of the least amount of importance in comparison to basketball and football. That’s not to say they don’t matter in baseball, but I think their impact is more limited. As the old saying goes in baseball, momentum is as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. Because baseball is unique in the sense that the guy on defense always has possession of the ball, the pitcher can always be a silencer no matter how hostile the opposing crowd is. A pitcher can also neutralize a superstar’s effectiveness to a degree unlike what’s seen in other sports because when a pitcher’s at the top of his game, you can’t just give your superstar more at-bats to take over a game, and the pitcher could also have his number over the course of that player’s career, or on a certain day. I do feel like baseball fans play a little bigger role when it comes to the postseason because there’s tension hanging on every pitch. But there’s a lot of empty seats in major league stadiums throughout the course of a 162 game season and that really limits a baseball fan’s impact on a game.
Switching gears to basketball, I think the impact of no fans at the basketball games is bigger than baseball by a substantial margin. In basketball, just about any seat is a good seat and fans are right on top of the action. NBA teams of the past have put together some great home records, and the same goes for high school and college as well. It’s very evident when you watch a basketball game on T.V. or in person, that because fans are so close to the action, the players can feed off their energy a great deal. I also think in basketball, depending on the team, home-court advantage in the playoffs can be a launching pad to a championship.
The other sport that is sure to take a hit with no fans in attendance is football. Like in basketball, Football fans can very much influence the outcome of a game. For as big a role football fans play in supporting the home team. Their role in disrupting the visiting team is just as vital. It’s common to see false starts and pre-snap penalties a team suffers have a direct link to the amount of noise an opposing crowd may be making. On top of causing penalties, A loud crowd may cause a visiting team to call a timeout, which could come back to haunt them late in the 4th quarter when they may need one. According to an article, and graphic produced by SBnation.com throughout a five year period in inter-conference college football games, certain stats were compiled that gave the home teams an upper hand. In another article posted by sportingcharts.com in 2014, thirty-one of thirty-two NFL teams have a higher winning percentage at home as opposed to on the road. Crowd noise is a key component of a team’s home-field advantage, and the fact that most football stadiums are larger than most basketball and baseball venues make home-field advantage in football that much more impactful, and the most impactful home-field advantage in college and pro sports.
On the high school level, based on my experience of going to the games, I think the best home team advantage happens in basketball. When I went to home games at Lowellville and Poland, You could feel the stands shake in the student sections at those basketball games. I personally feel that the Fans in Lowellville that were at the games when I went to school there played a large part in the Rockets scoring some victories and upset wins. The fans of Poland boys basketball also became a key factor in my opinion during their multi-year run to Columbus just about a little over a decade ago. To take it a step further, at one point in 2016, 13 of the 14 teams in the Big Ten in men’s college basketball saw their opponents make free throws at a lower rate than they do at home. Numbers like that can be attributed to loud crowd noise at away arenas. Overall, fans play a role in sporting events, small or big you can’t deny the numbers, and whether they’re sorely missed or just missed a little, the one thing that’s for certain is they are missed.