John Madden does not want to hear artificial crowd noise on NFL broadcasts in 2020 if games are played without fans in attendance. His reasoning is simple: access. Who would not want to hear more of what’s said between players, coaches and officials on the field?
The answer, unfortunately, could be the people who ultimately have the power to decide whether piped-in crowd noise will blanket this previously unheard chatter.
Fred Gaudelli, the executive producer of NBC Sports’ “Sunday Night Football,” was recently interviewed by The Athletic on the subject of sports TV presentations without fans in the stands. He referenced his conversation with Madden, the Pro Football Hall of Famer whom he had asked for advice on whether to utilize artificial crowd noise on live game broadcasts.
“He said, ‘When I first left the coaching profession and went to broadcasting, there was something about it that I just felt was missing and I couldn’t really put my finger on it,'” Gaudelli remembered. “He said, ‘Then I realized that I wasn’t hearing the sound that I had grown accustomed to hearing — as a player and as a coach. I never coached from the box, I coached from the field.’
“He said to me, ‘Fred, you’re going to hear things that even you have never heard, so I’d be really trying to figure out how to best capture those sounds, and present them to the audience and not worry as much about artificial sound.'”
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As the XFL proved in 2020 before it went belly-up amid the coronavirus pandemic, there’s an appetite among football viewers for this kind of access. But there’s also a reason the NFL generally limits on-field vocal sounds to pre-snap cadences and an occasional pick-up from the referee’s mic.
Simply put: If the NFL wanted us to hear more of what’s said on the field, we already would hear more of what’s said on the field.
The Athletic noted it’s unclear who will decide whether to inject artificial crowd noise for the broadcast of a game without fans in attendance, but “Gaudelli said conversations are ongoing with the NFL on this point,” and “he expects it to be a league role.”
Added Gaudelli: “If the NFL says, ‘Hey, look, we want our games presented with crowd noise,’ I think they would produce that, what’s called a loop right now or a mix. And then they would distribute that to the broadcaster doing the game, I think, control that so (it doesn’t) get out of hand and get crazy and get wild.”
Control is a key word, because it defines how the NFL operates. In that sense, the league in theory could find a way to present what Madden says we “have never heard” with what it considers adequate censorship. Again, though, this is a can of worms the NFL has not opened for a reason.
Players might approve, as evidenced by Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson’s recent advocating for more on-field vocal audio on broadcasts, but coaches surely would push back against the kind of access that could impact competitive balance. This is why the audio of players and coaches who are “mic’d up” for NFL Films is edited.
“They should give the fans the inside to really see what goes on between the white lines,” Jackson said on teammate Lane Johnson’s YouTube show. “It gets crazy, bro. I know in the trenches it gets crazy, and I know out there on the outside it gets crazy, too, with the conversations we going back and forth on.”
That sounds like amazing TV. It also sounds like something that would terrify the sometimes unnecessarily conservative NFL.