The health crisis that has gripped the world by storm in 2020 is making everyone and everything reevaluate things that we seemed to take for granted.
Throughout the situation, we’ve been required to adapt to the new realities in a year that has been re-shaped by a highly contagious pandemic. One of the biggest factors affected in the current climate has been sports.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, leagues around the world and in a variety of codes were closing their operations, suspending their seasons and taking stock of the mess that they now had on their hands.
If someone would have said last year that there would be no AFL played between March and June, you’d rightfully be laughed out of the room. However, the AFL wasn’t the only major sporting league to suffer from a temporary hiatus, with the English Premier League, Italian Serie A, and Spain’s La Liga suffering as well while the Indian Premier League was put on indefinite hold prior to the start of the season due to the pandemic.
In June, AFL became one of the first sports around the world to return to operation with a caveat that there would no longer be an in-house crowd. For the first time in sport’s history, there were no spectators at the ground. Yet, despite the lack of fans football continued as if nothing had changed with impartial crowd noises pumped into the stadiums.
This begs the question of in the aftermath of the virus are crowds essential for sports, especially the AFL, to survive?
In 2020, the AFL signed a $730 million deal with Channel Seven to continue broadcasting the sport until 2024. The deal has undoubtedly put pressure on the AFL to provide content for the networks to air. While Channel Seven and Foxtel, the two entities that split coverage of the sport, wouldn’t publicly admit it but having football without crowds plays into their ability to have larger audiences.
The thousands of patrons that would watch the football from the ground now have no choice but to watch it on TV instead.
However, the lack of crowds dulled the game. There is undoubtedly a romantic aspect of being live at the stadiums. Friends travelling to the game together, parents taking their children. Sport is and should continue to be a communal event. While the current climate has shown that even without a crowd, the show can still go on, sports aren’t the same without it.
Hopefully, with audiences returning this weekend we can finally begin the path back to regular crowds at live events again.