Commentary: TV sports will be back soon – there just won’t be anyone to cheer (but how about canned cheering?)

Commentary: TV sports will be back soon - there just won’t be anyone to cheer (but how about canned cheering?)
Ben Nelms/CBC
People play tennis at the Port Moody Recreational Complex in Port Moody, British Columbia on Thursday, May 7, 2020.

If you don’t include the Bundelsiga – the German soccer league – and a bit of Formula One and the odd charity golf game, there has been precious little TV sport to watch these past few months.

This means a lot of TV sports junkies have either a) been going out of their minds with frustration for a few months or b) got their lives back.

I admit I have missed TV sports very much. Even if it has been good for me. Not quite so much time has been spent watching other people run around a lot. Or, in the case of golf,  less time has been spent watching other people manage to get the ball generally in the direction they hit it, which is something of an alien concept when I play the game.

It may be something of a sacrilege, but I find TV sports more enjoyable than going to actual sporting events. Mainly, because at live events these days, I have problems seeing what’s happening. TV gives me close-ups, action replays, commentary, analysis and I can actually see the ball or the puck. And I don’t have to go farther than my couch.

A few years ago I went to a Ryder Cup – the bi-annual golf match between Europe and the U.S. – and the atmosphere was electric. The crowds at Gleneagles in Scotland were huge and the cheers rang around the course with every European win. It was a magical event.

But I had a problem seeing the ball. Certainly, I never saw it when the crowds were five-deep and I was at the back. But even when I was sitting at the green at a grandstand I would see the player in the distance on the fairway swing a club and then, plop, the ball was on the green. Now, I admit I don’t have the greatest eyesight,but I missed, well, a whole bunch of the action.

At Canucks hockey games I’m always squinting in search of the puck. Probably because I sit in the nosebleeds. And even at soccer games, I feel a million miles from the action. That was certainly true last year when I went to the London Stadium to watch a West Ham Premier League game. The stadium, built for the Olympics, is huge and has a running track between the pitch and the grandstands. Spectators are miles from the action. I took binoculars, but that seemed to miss the point of being there. It was also freezing cold. And West Ham lost.

I’m a cricket fan, and good luck with aging eyes seeing the ball at Lords – the headquarters of golf – if you’re not sitting behind the batsman. From the side all you see is a bowler run into bowl at pace, a flash of the bat, then finally the ball trickling away.

This is where TV excels. Even in cricket, well, perhaps especially in cricket, television coverage makes the game exciting, even thrilling, showing if the ball is in line with the stumps with extraordinary graphics and replays. (I won’t explain cricket. We’ll be here all day.

Just about every game looks better on television. Because you get up close and personal.

But here’s the thing. Even at home, you need to feel the atmosphere of the game, the crowd noise. The reaction to a missed putt or a spectacular goal. And since most sports, from soccer to hockey, will resume without crowds, it’s going to be difficult projecting excitement on our screens. Rory McIlroy, one of the world’s top golfers, says he doesn’t think the Ryder Cup, scheduled for later this year, should resume without crowds – because the competition is all about the reaction of the crowds, and the atmosphere of the event. He’s right.  In truth, the Bundesliga games I’ve watched seem more sterile because of the lack of crowds.

The English Premier League will resume this month without crowds. The league has agreed to demands from broadcasters to enhance their coverage – such as a camera in the tunnel where the teams enter, a microphone on the coin toss between the captains, a celebration-cam and optional crowd noise on the TV.

Fake crowd noise? So, just like they once used canned laughter on the old sitcoms, it looks like canned applause – and presumably groans and boos – are going to be in our immediate sporting future.

I’m all for it. Put some virtual crowds in the stands (we can do anything in TV this year – we’re the masters of bells and whistles) and I’m ready for action.

Now. Where’s the couch. I need to put in some serious training.

Ian Haysom’s coronavirus diary will appear here regularly.

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