Only one NFL game played on Sunday had fans in attendance, when the Indianapolis Colts traveled to Jacksonville to face off against the Jaguars. Otherwise, every team in the league was playing in front of a stadium laid bare with not even cardboard cutouts there to support them. As a result, almost all the broadcasts from yesterday featured heavy doses of fake fan noises, to varying degrees of success. For the most part, though, it confirmed that this aspect of football broadcasts will be a work in progress for a bit.
It's important to note that any trip-ups that come with fake fan noise are not to be blamed on CBS or FOX or any of the other rights-holders for the NFL. The league itself is in charge of how the fan noise is used during the games. There wasn't any clear downside to having a middle man in that regard on Sunday, but it stands to reason that mid-game adjustments will be difficult when the networks have to work with the league to do anything instead of handling it in-house.
Now, on to the issues they'll aim to fix during tonight's pair of Monday Night Football matchups and heading into Week 2. The crowd noise, whether it was a cheer or boo, was often delayed by a few seconds, which is a tad off-putting to viewers. That was probably the most predictable problem, and the one that isn't easily fixed. Even while watching the game with rapt attention, someone still needs to press a button to react, which takes a few more seconds than a crowd reacting in real-time. The NBA's fake crowd has been pretty good about that, but they also had nearly a month of practice before the games really mattered.
The larger issue was the inconsistent volume. Some games had the crowd too quiet, which was stranger than the broadcast just going with the sounds of an empty stadium because the murmur of the crowd was there but not as loud as we, the viewers, are accustomed to. It was a tad off-putting. Other games were too loud, most notably Saints-Buccaneers, which had Joe Buck raising his voice to be heard over the fake crowd on the broadcast. The Superdome is usually much louder than that, of course, but when we all know there's nobody there, overtly loud fan noise seems silly. It should not, at the very least, hinder the broadcasters, who have become even more important in terms of keeping viewers engaged and the energy level high with no live audience to assist them.
It's hard to envision a fix for the former problem, but it can get better as whoever is in charge of pressing that button gets used to doing it as quickly as possible. The latter is a relatively easy fix in terms of volume adjustment. But it will take trial and error to find the correct volume that gives viewers a similar broadcast experience as in the past while not hindering the actual broadcasters. This was the first stage of that trial and error.
It wasn't all bad. It was fun to hear booing from the home crowd when the hosting team chose to punt at the end of a half instead of pushing for more points or when a referee made a close call. When there wasn't any notable issues, it was actually nice to have crowd noise there. Even if we consciously know it isn't real, it made the broadcast feel closer to what it would be in the normal times we all wistfully remember. But it isn't perfect yet-- far from it. Just like with everything else in this strange season, fan noise during the broadcast will be a work in progress for the NFL and its broadcast partners.