In March 2020, sport as we know it came to a standstill with most countries restricting public gatherings and closing all non-essential activities indefinitely to prevent the spread of coronavirus. With fear and apprehensions raging worldwide, sport, understandably took a backseat.
Action returned in June-July as various countries eased lockdown regulations.
Now we have the Indian Premier League starting in exactly 24 hours from now.
The question however is: will the IPL, and sports in general, be the same without fans in the stands and can sport emerge out of the Covid pandemic stronger and richer?
A gallery without fans
The absence of fans from the stadium will mean great difficulty for sports broadcasters in capturing the emotional resonance associated with cricket.
How can the broadcaster change their formulaic approach and cater to the masses in this situation?
For the people who will watch the games on television, the broadcaster should consider the possibility of showing videos of fans at home at appropriate moments during the telecast. The fans on the couch will replace the fans in the stands. The camera can no longer cut to a screaming fan in the crowd. But television and streaming devices can still show the emotions of fans - tensed in the anticipation of a wicket, anxious at their team faltering, or despaired when one’s favourite batsman is out. Anyone anywhere with a smartphone and an internet data package can record, send, or live stream their reactions. A mobile app can help send the video directly to the channel. The channel will sort the videos, select a few, and assemble them with the video feed of the match. They already do so for text messages and tweets, which they often play out on screen as questions. Now the text will be replaced by a face and at one go the fans at home sitting on their sofa will start to feel empowered and a part of the action.
This disruption has the capacity of transforming sport broadcast from a placeless stream of video information to a new level of interactive experience.
So far broadcast has focused mainly on the stadium. By showing clips made by fans located anywhere from Mumbai to Montreal, the broadcaster will be able to exhibit the global nature of fandom.
By empowering fans and democratizing fandom, these innovations can help cricket emerge stronger out of the COVID-19 pandemic, with an expanded scope and a larger playing field. Even when fans return to stadiums, the process can continue. New social identities will be forged, and sport will have a larger than ever base of committed and engaged fans.
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