Football Without Fans during the New Coronavirus Pandemic Lockdown: A Reflection using Goffman’s Theater Metaphor

Today we had a glimpse of what professional football might look like in this new normal. As a consequence of the new Coronavirus lockdown the Bundesliga resumed its season behind closed doors. Whilst watching the famous Ruhr Derby (Revierderby) match between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 my first impression was that it resembled more like a closed door practice or maybe a closed door pre-season friendly.

This feeling made me start wondering why it resembled something else and not a proper professional football match. Probably the easiest and simpler answer would be to argue that football without fans is not real football. But it was not only the lack of atmosphere generated by fans that caught my attention. It was something else.

In our old normal in sports broadcasting the noise of fans would silence other aspects of the game. In particular it silences other actors in that large theatrical stage: players, coaches, and referees. This new normal in sports broadcasting brings to the frontstage those distinct performances that we as television viewers are not commonly used to watch.

In a way, this new normal theatrical perfomance blends for television audiences both frontgage and backstage elements. It allows sports fans a behind the scenes perspective that they are not used to experience in live football games [maybe more used on other sports where fans watch in silence like tennis].

As such, this new normal is kind of a mixture of the old and traditional sports broadcasting live game model with the documentary genre fans are used to watch in new media platforms – with the likes of The Last Dance or The Least Expected Day: Inside the Movistar Team 2019 on Netflix.

But a fundamental question remains: are we interested in experiencing those extra perfomances from players, coaches, and referees in detriment of losing the performance of audiences in stadium? Or the performance of audiences in stadium is a key element in this interactive theatre that we know as professional football?

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