Fans may not be present for games in most NFL stadiums, but it will sound like they are.
Per a league source, the NFL currently is considering the use of artificial crowd noise in the range of 70 to 85 decibels for games without fans present. As the source explained it, the sound level likely would be constant throughout the game, regardless of whether the home team or the visiting team has the ball.
In response to a request for comment, a league spokesman said, “We are finalizing plans.”
If the final plan entails the same sound level throughout the game, that creates a different competitive balance question than the league’s decision to let some teams host fans while others can’t. For a team like the Vikings, who have a significant home-field advantage coming from the noise generated by the fans who pack their stadium, the sound under normal circumstances will be lower when the Vikings have the ball and higher (significantly) when the Vikings are playing defense. Replacing that with artificial noise that remains at the same level for both teams at all times would not simulate normal crowd noise in that venue, largely wiping out Minnesota’s home-field advantage.
This approach will hurt both that have raucous home stadiums primarily consisting of their own fans, along with teams that have a nationwide footprint that results in plenty of their fans attending road games. (Some teams fall into both categories.) In contrast, this approach will help teams that are required to play on the road in loud venues, like in Minnesota, Seattle, or Kansas City, along with teams that either play in partially or largely empty stadiums and/or stadiums overrun by fans of the visiting team.
The Chargers, for example, will benefit from this approach. They typically have a home-field disadvantage because their fans are outnumbered by fans of the opposing team. Artificial noise that remains constant throughout the game will make things a lot more hospitable in their home stadium. Also, they won’t have to worry about venturing into opposing stadiums where the sound will be deafening as they try to run their offense.
It’s unknown whether artificial noise will be used to enhance the sound naturally created in places where partial crowds will be present. Again, nothing has been finalized. Here’s hoping that, if the league decides to use artificial noise, it’s done in a way that much better simulates how things would have sounded at a normal game in each specific venue.
Or, to avoid any and all issues or concerns regarding potential competitive imbalance or the failure to simulate actual crowd noise, maybe the league should use no noise at all.