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New normal: One element from the 2020 NFL Draft could set the tone for the future of live sports

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The 2020 NFL Draft starts. The Bengals’ pick is in. Commissioner Roger Goodell hops in front of the camera with the card in his hand, and announces that LSU quarterback Joe Burrow will be heading to Cincinnati to start his professional football career.

How do fans feel about the move? They’re not in attendance to let you know. But, they’re present in a unique way, and it could be a stepping stone en route to a bigger trend in the world of live sports.

The 2020 NFL Draft served as the second live sporting event since the NBA, NHL and MLB shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the WNBA Draft acting as the starting point for the start of the 2020 sports resurgence.

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While the WNBA Draft set the tone for players hearing their name called in a virtual setting, the NFL took it to another level with their production on opening night across numerous television platforms.

Analysts were spread out across the country, with some staying in the studio and others working from home. Goodell himself was announcing draft picks from his basement, with a full crew helping him out to make sure the production value was high.

Incoming rookies, coaches and general managers alike had cameras in their homes to capture their live reactions to some of the night’s biggest moments, and both reporters and Goodell were able to FaceTime draft picks after teams altered their lives in the best way possible.

One unique element to the remote broadcast of this year’s draft? Groups of fans for each team, incorporated using virtual meeting technology.

Goodell was able to hear the usual boos as he “stepped to the podium” to announce the beginning of the event, and had about a dozen fans from each team on the screen behind him to cheer on each franchise’s draft picks throughout the night.

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While the addition of fans to the event may have seemed corny and forced to some, it may serve as a spot of inspiration for organizations looking at the best ways to get as close to the real thing as possible when it comes to crowd noise during games.

As the NBA and NHL look at potential options for resuming their respective seasons this summer, they may see the NFL’s draft broadcast as a spark for some creativity, and may find ways to allow fans to voice themselves in a live setting while watching the games from home.

How could they do it? Similar to the NFL with the draft, each league could find a group of 20 or so fans to pile into a Zoom meeting, either from one team or split 50/50, and give them the opportunity to cheer, boo or anything in between as the intensity picks up in each game. It could add a bit more to the ambience of the game, and allows for more content for the production crews to cut to after a key goal or clutch basket.

Add in the usual voices of announcers like Mike Breen, Marv Albert or Mike “Doc” Emrick, who likely wouldn’t have any of the fans blaring in their ears as they call any action on the court or on the ice, and the combination might just be able to work.

It can be a minimalistic approach, similar to the NFL’s draft broadcast, but something may be better than nothing if leagues are forced to continue without fans for the foreseeable future.

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With all of that in mind, are you wondering what the sports world looks like without any crowd noise, and if it makes any difference in the grand scheme of things? Look no further than the opposite of the NFL’s production, which comes in the world of professional wrestling, specifically inside of WWE’s squared circle.

The COVID-19 outbreak forced WWE into a tough situation as it relates to their annual WrestleMania broadcast, and the company decided that the show must go on, even if it meant sacrificing the ability to have a live audience in attendance.

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They spread the event out over two nights, and had wrestlers competing in a silent WWE Performance Center, with only two announcers in attendance (alongside a few camera operators) to add in any outside noise. While the event got the job done, many fans realized that the final product could’ve been much better with the usual excitement from a loud crowd at ringside.

Sticking with combat sports, the UFC, scheduled to have fights resume in an event on May 9, may seem like another organization that could benefit from having rabid fight fans in an arena when they go back on the air.

But, the presence of coaches for each fighter in a smaller space at least adds some background noise to take away from the action inside of the Octagon. Thus, they fall into a different category of entertainment in this debate.

All in all, the COVID-19 outbreak is forcing leagues and organizations to think creatively. UFC is reportedly putting together a “Fight Island” to avoid running into troubles in specific states, while the NHL and MLB have reportedly looked into central locations across the United States to house players and their families while host games with no fans.

Unfortunately for those making those decisions, the creativity can’t stop there. They’ll have to think outside of the box, and come up with unique ideas if they want to stand out among the rest and give fans something they can enjoy and remember amid a troubling situation.

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