Performance of Sports: Football Fans

As we’ve learned in the last couple of Performance of Sports pieces, performance is a lot more than we initially think of when we hear the word. This piece poses another question. If performance manifests itself in many different ways, does there always have to be an audience? If so, how does that “audience” appear? When we think about the “audience” of a football game, we traditionally think of those who are in the stadium at the time of the game. In our old normal there were a couple ways that we could talk about the audience of a football game, but in the current pandemic state there is one more way to talk about the audience.

The first audience that we can talk about is the obvious one, the people who buy tickets to attend the game in person. Have you ever been to a football game? You have to be really dedicated to go to a football game. From the time that it takes to drive to the game (or otherwise travel if you are coming from out of town), finding parking and walking to the stadium, possibly adding a tailgate in before the game, arriving at the stadium before the game begins, actually watching the game, to getting out of the stadium to your car and finally driving home it takes a lot of time and often a lot of money to make it happen. These fans who show up to the game are going to give their full attention to the players on the field. If they don’t give their full attention, I question why they are even there in the first place. The largest football stadium in America is “The Big House,” home of the University of Michigan Wolverines. It seats 107,601 people. As a football player, that’s a lot of eyes on you.

Another audience is a much more intimate close knit audience: the family of football players, their team. Have you ever done a performance where you are in front of hundreds (maybe thousands) of people and those aren’t the people whose opinions of your performance you care about? You care about the opinions of the few friends or family that you know are out there watching and somehow you hone into where they are and their reactions to different aspects of the performance. I don’t play football, so I can’t speak from experience, but I imagine that is what it is like for football players on the field knowing that the rest of their team and coaches are watching them and will not hold back speaking up about their performance. That is the audience that I wonder if they care most about.

The third audience that is most “normal,” is the audience at home. While showing up to games takes a lot of time and money, it doesn’t cost that much to turn on your TV any Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and flip through all of the sports channels to find a game that you want to watch. Trust me. That game flipping happens all the time in our house. Football is practically always on. These are the people who care about the team(s) on some level (unless you’re my husband and you’re watching football just to watch football) but don’t have the resources to be able to attend games in person. I love watching games in person, but I much prefer being part of the TV football audience. I get to get up and get snacks whenever I want without waiting in long lines, I get to get up and go to the bathroom whenever I want without waiting in long lines, and I get to turn off the TV when it’s over and not have worry about sitting in the parking lot in long lines. Do you see a trend here? I hate lines. But just because these fans are watching at home doesn’t mean they are any less of a fan than the fans who are in the stadium. In fact, COVID has created this strange phenomenon where you can be a TV fan and an in-stadium fan at the same time.

The fourth fan (which only exists in the present time because of the pandemic) is the cardboard cut-out fan. If you’ve ever performed in a play or musical you know that your energy feeds off of the energy of the audience. Performance nights have so much more energy than rehearsals with just the production team watching. I kind of wonder if it is the same for football players. They have cardboard fans in the stadiums this year because of the pandemic and inability to have only a small amount of fans (or none at all), but I’m not sure what this is supposed to do for them. Do they play better when they see people in the stadium? They’re not really feeding off of any energy from a piece of cardboard. I think it’s fun for TV fans to see themselves in cardboard form at the games of their favorite teams, but otherwise I’m kind of lost on the point of these cardboard fans or “audience members.” What do you think is the point of the cardboard fan? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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