Sometimes the stadium announcer still cries out to make people believe that. That everything is normal, that the stands are already vibrating, that the meeting promises to be exceptional. But a few minutes of retransmission are enough to dampen the feigned enthusiasm. In deserted enclosures due to closed doors required by the measures against the coronavirus, a match of football, rugby, handball, tennis sounds desperately hollow and looks very bad on television. And all the attempts to enrich the business with recorded soundtracks to remind the public’s presence can not help.
A degraded and demonetized spectacle
“We really take the measure with the closed door imposed by this confinement: the presence of spectators is an integral part of the sporting spectacle., underlines Jean-Pascal Gayant, professor of economics at the University of Le Mans. Without them, the show is less attractive, less authentic, arouses fewer emotions. And everyone can measure its degradation. Does he find himself demonetized? Probably a little. And the longer it lasts, the more this value can drop ”.
Should we therefore fear an imbalance in the sports economy which relies heavily on television broadcasting rights? “In a worst-case scenario, with months behind closed doors, probably, judge Christophe Lepetit, economist at the Center for Sports Law and Economics (Cdes) in Limoges. The watered-down ambience really affects the quality of the product. In the medium term, a Champions League, tennis Grand Slams, Olympic Games without an audience cannot sell themselves so dearly to sponsors and the media ”.
Put the supporters back at the center of the game
However, the commercial dimension is not the only one to be taken into account. “We must also make the link between the show and the practice, and there, the social issue is not small, assures the sociologist Ludovic Lestrellin, teacher-researcher at the University of Caen and specialist in supporterism. A degraded sports spectacle, it may be tomorrow less practitioners. The very people who come to the stadiums. It’s a vicious circle “. By proposing only in camera, do we not risk participating in the disaffection of the public once the normal situation is restored? “For the moment, in football in particular, a solid base exists on which to rest to repopulate the stands, even if the supporters’ associations are questioning their ability to regain their numbers before the pandemic., continues Ludovic Lestrellin. For a more volatile public, no doubt that a long-term work of reconquest will however be necessary “.
A more positive outcome cannot be excluded, however. “We can hope that the role of supporters proving to be essential, the leaders of the sport will take them more into account, believes Christophe Lepetit. The sports spectacle is organized by a sports movement in a monopoly situation or almost. We need more concerted governance in the future, and start thinking about it today ”. Obviously, all the players in sport hardly seem to be concerned about the future, stunned by the weight of the present and economic difficulties.
A virtual future?
“It’s a shame, because being behind closed doors prompts us to reflect on the deep nature of the sporting spectacle: can we imagine it losing its ties with equipment, a territory, people? wonders historian Marion Fontaine, teacher-researcher at the University of Avignon. Are we heading towards an increasingly virtual spectacle? Certain events practically act on this principle. The World Cup in 2022 in Qatar is unlikely to draw crowds. “
Formula 1 has for a while looked at pay-per-view broadcasts, allowing viewers to choose their viewing angles. Technology is still holding back plans for such massive releases, but others are riding the same hobbyhorse for the future. Like the ISL private swimming league, which imagines cameras underwater, on each lane, for total personalization of the broadcast. Sporting reality like a video game or almost. So what good is the supporter?
“I do not believe in a total disenchantment for the sports spectacle, even damaged by the camera, says Jean-Pascal Gayant. On the other hand, it is possible that this accelerates the decline of certain sports, like swimming or athletics, who are already struggling to adapt to changes in tastes and practices, especially among the youngest. “ If the in camera had at least one virtue, it would be that of shaking up the acquired situations, and of forcing to question a sporting spectacle without major evolution these last thirty years.
“Without really comparing, we can establish common points between the pandemic and the war, concludes Marion Fontaine. Most people operate with the idea that this is an exceptional situation, so they adjust while waiting for something to return to normal. Except that there is no guarantee that the world after is exactly the same as the world before. The sports model has developed like others on very speculative logic and the idea of permanent progress. Except that here, we will have to see if people will have the desire and the means to return to the stadiums. Difficult to know today what will be the collective wills. But we can bet that the lines will move. “