How to make the upcoming hockey telecasts better

With the New York Rangers nearing a return to play, it’s time to talk about the games

If all goes according to plan, in five weeks we will be settling down to watch the New York Rangers take on the Carolina Hurricanes in a best-of-five qualifying series.  With the NHL hell bent on resuming play and with the experiences of other sports to go on, we can focus on how the games will be televised.

John Davidson was interviewed last week on a wide range of topics and one thing he made a point of mentioning was the Bundesliga soccer telecasts that included artificial crowd noise.

Davidson raved about it, with the caveat that he doesn’t know what is planned.   He said “the pumped in crowd noise..I’m telling you it was good.  The crowd noise was up and down….watching on television it made it very interesting…I thought it was good.”

What the Germans did was fascinating.  They took the crowd noises from previous matches between the same two teams and isolated specific plays like fouls, penalties, corner kicks, shots and saves and inserted them at the right moment, mixed with real game audio.  They also had a bed of chants and other crowd noises that they laid in throughout the game.

Take a look at this video from the match between RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund.  Click on where it says “watch on YouTube” to see it.

To be honest, it’s a pretty nice way of replicating the feeling of watching  a game with fans although the stands are clearly empty.

Compare it to these highlights from Bayern Munich vs. Eintracht Frankfurt. In this telecast there was no piped in sound, just whatever ambient sounds at the stadium.

While something is to be said for being able to hear the players shouting to each other and the refs talking to the players, it didn’t feel like a traditional game.

One important  thing to remember is that the artificial noise was only on the telecast and not in the stadium itself.  There was no crowd noise for the players to feed on and they had to deal with the experience of playing in the eerie echo of an empty stadium that normally would hold 80,000 fans.

For another experience, watch these highlights from the RBC Heritage golf tournament.

Golf is not a traditional spectator sport, but they chose not to enhance the audio so you don’t hear the usual applause when a player hits a shot or makes a putt. It’s a little weird.

It’s a television show

Watching the Bundesliga telecast, John Davidson has a point.  You really forget that the stands are empty, so the idea of putting cardboard cutouts of fans is unneeded.  But, adding crowd noise to the telecast does enhance the whole game experience.

It also helps the announcers.  With no crowd noise, there would be an awful lot of dead air and you can be sure that the Mike Emricks and Joe Michelettis of the world would try to fill that void…there would be a lot of talking and that isn’t such a good thing.

Davidson said that creative minds are eager to have a chance to work on this.  He said “There were a number of people in the entertainment business that really want to be part of this, to be able to add things to make the games more fun and real to watch…what that is I can’t tell you.”

With the technology available, there is no reason that NHL, in cahoots with NBC, couldn’t make a telecast feel more like a traditional game. There’s no way of knowing what other initiatives they are looking at, but crowd noise is a simple (but complicated) one that they could start with.

The producers of the Bundesliga telecasts actually hired audio producers who were intimately familiar with the sounds of the home games.  They also spent a lot of time watching EA Sports soccer to see how it works on video games.

Why not?

In the upcoming games, teams will be designated as home and away and will wear their road and home uniforms.  Is there any harm in including home crowd noises during the telecast?  The players won’t be able to hear it, so it won’t affect actual game play, but if it makes the viewing of the game better, why not?

Davidson intimated that there will be some experimentation. “The soccer with the crowd noise pumped in…I thought it worked, I thought it was very good. …I wouldn’t be surprised is they do something.”

And why not?  While the NHL can talk about integrity and competition until they are blue in the face, their primary goal in getting the season restarted is to engage fans. Purists will argue that artificial noise is not “real.”  Well, nothing about playing games in a pandemic free bubble with no fans in the stands in two hub cities is real.   This is entertainment and so long as it doesn’t affect how the players play, they should go for it.

In that case, it is essential that they make the games feel as real as possible.  The key question is whether NBC will have the onions to include the occasional “Potvin sucks” chant during Ranger “home” games.

What do you think?  Check out the soccer highlights and weigh in below.