Amidst a pandemic, the IPL is happening without any crowds in the stadiums, and manufactured crowd sounds to give the real feel of a live match. However, things haven’t gone as planned
Over the last 12 seasons, spectators played a significant role in IPL’s evolution as a huge brand. Supporters pack the stadiums and stay glued to television screens, and that’s what keeps the IPL growing. Their unwavering support is what helps the IPL to rake in the big bucks. They know it, the teams know it.
The raucous crowds, the Mexican waves in the stands, the banners and placards with cheeky messages all make for the IPL fever. So how can there be an IPL without crowds?
An IPL without crowds is a direct result of Covid-19 and the global pandemic caused by the virus. The contagion has kept people away and sport ground to a halt. When it resumed, spectators were absent. NBA games and English Premier League fixtures were played in empty stadiums. The crowds were kept away from the US Open tennis and Champions League football too.
The absence of cheering crowds hasn’t affected the action in IPL 2020, which is in its second week. All the supporters are following their teams on television, computers, tablets or mobile phones. Never mind the noise that’s piped in.
The first week of IPL has also opened the doors to a disturbing new reality. While it’s true that large cricket stadiums get filled up only in India, cricket matches, especially in the shorter formats, without the fans in the stadium are a dampener.
The illusions created by ambient crowd noises in empty stadiums might be all right as a stop-gap telecast arrangement but any talk of this being the way forward is indeed disturbing.
The argument that it’s only the sound that matters, irrespective of the fans being in or out of the stadium, is a bit naive. They may come a poor second to the ones watching from the comfort of their homes in terms of the numbers, but it’s the fans—the bands, the noise, the painted bodies, the flags, the Mexican waves, the energy—who give life to cricket on television.
Most of the time, the crowd noise works fine. Sometimes, the broadcasters get it wrong. When a huge roar goes up, you look up to see a flick fielded at short square-leg. And you wonder, what really happened? It’s just that the crowd noise track wasn’t in sync with the action on the field.
While other leagues have also added recordings from previous matches, the fake-fan noises IPL uses already become a little annoying. One of the reasons is the lack of genuine sound effects.
Even if the batsman sends the ball to a fielder standing inside the circle and takes a single, the background noise is magnified to such an extent as if the player has hit a massive six. At first, it used to be funny but now it just feels silly.
This has happened a lot of times in the ongoing IPL. When Rahul Tewatia showed his heroics as he hit five sixes in a Sheldon Cottrell over, there was a stunned silence and then suddenly a roar came out of nowhere when all the action had been completed. Similarly, there was a silence when Shubman Gill smacked boundaries all over the park vs Sunrisers Hyderabad while the noise suddenly erupted when he nudged the ball to extra cover for a single.
Again, it seems that the broadcasters took the pre-recorded audio clips for a single match only. Every time the noise starts playing, it feels like the broadcasters are playing the same thing over and over again. The repetition is something that takes the realistic charm away from the game and gives it a sort of robotic feel.
Take the EPL for example. The crowd noises are so realistic, with the chants, boos and celebrations timed to perfection with each and every minute moment in the game. IPL, though being the largest cricket league in the world, is miles behind EPL or even other tournaments like the US Open.’
“Cricket is the most complicated sport to put out audio in. Each ball is an event and each event has different audio” says Hemant Buch, who does live cricket production around the world.
“For an audio engineer, you have to put the fader (a device for varying the volume of sound) up and down, making sure the ambient sound is right. It is a task”, he says. “It will get much better as the tournament progresses”, he adds
“It was completely different. We are so used to seeing so many people cheering us. But, we were expecting this. IPL did some great job with some noise going around the stadium. I hope this is the new normal only for a little while,” said MI skipper Rohit Sharma. Like the hitman himself, cricket enthusiasts around the world would hope for this mechanical canned noises to be over and hear the cheer and enthusiasm of a live crowd.