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"Ghost games": in the near term, an odd sports experience awaits, as the "experience economy" goes on indefinite pause

Given the increasing likelihood that major league sports will return in fan-less venues, played for the cameras and the television audience, the question arises: how well can it work.

In the New York Times, Jere Longman wrote 5/20/20, With No Fans in the Seats, Do Sports Remain Must-Watch TV?, recalling an April 2105 baseball game in Baltimore, played before empty stands in the wake of civil unrest.

His observation:
But without live spectators for an extended period, traditional games risk being reduced to mathematics with trading cards, especially once the novelty of sports’ return wears off.
For those watching on television, spectators are necessary surrogates. They provide jersey-wearing pageantry, face-painted tribalism and adrenaline for the players.
He warns against artificial noise and fake spectators. But if games resume, expect some efforts to simulate a crowd.

Similarly, Danny Chau wrote 5/20/20 in The Atlantic, Athletes During the Pandemic Are Learning What Fans Have Always Known, citing geisterspiele, or “ghost games,” in the Germany soccer league. The term "captures the sense that the communion kindled by live sports in a past life cannot fully exist in this one."

He suggests that it  might be harder for athletes than than fans to get used to: "Uproarious fans in a stadium create a pressurized atmosphere designed to test the mettle and anxieties of an athlete." But suggests it's possible that athletes can pull it off.

In Gen the same day, Drew Magary warned, Your Leaders Want Sports Back, But Not Because They Like Sports. It's about money, and politics, applying a "veneer of normalcy." And he thinks fans can accept it:
Now imagine if sports DO come back, even in bastardized form. I have watched German soccer and Korean baseball played in empty stadiums and have still been overjoyed by their presence on my screen. You would feel this same joy if the NFL started back up, especially if it does so on time.
Waiting, waiting

In the Times, published online the same day (and it print a day later), David Gelles wrote about the broader world of live event, including sports, Coronavirus Shut Down the 'Experience Economy.' Can It Come Back? An ecosystem is threatened, involving travel, gatherings, and disposable income.

He writes:
But beyond the immediate hardships created by sweeping job losses and stagnant businesses, the standstill in gatherings is already having a deeper impact on the national psyche. The business of events, however commercial it might be, is also central to our identities.
The article ends with a quote from Catherine Powell, head of experiences at Airbnb and a former Disney executive who oversaw theme parks: “From a travel industry and hospitality perspective, it will take a long time for things to return to normal. If they ever return to normal.”

The Day the Live Concert Returns, The Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl wrote in The Atlantic 5/11/20, regarding the crowd:
Not to brag, but I think I’ve had the best seat in the house for 25 years. Because I do see you. I see you pressed against the cold front rails. I see you air-drumming along to your favorite songs in the distant rafters. I see you lifted above the crowd and carried to the stage for a glorious swan dive back into its sweaty embrace. I see your homemade signs and your vintage T-shirts. I hear your laughter and your screams and I see your tears....  
In today’s world of fear and unease and social distancing, it's hard to imagine sharing experiences like these ever again. I don’t know when it will be safe to return to singing arm in arm at the top of our lungs, hearts racing, bodies moving, souls bursting with life. But I do know that we will do it again, because we have to. 
Sure, but what's interesting here is there's no incentive for bands like his to play before empty stadiums for television revenue. The best they can do is release new music, repackage old filmed concerts, and, perhaps, play along on Zoom.

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