Performance of Sports: Designing the Experience
Football doesn’t just happen. There is a lot of design that goes into it, much like designing a theatrical or musical performance. When we think about the design in a theatrical or musical performance we think of lighting, sound, hair/makeup, costumes, set, props, etc. Would you believe me if I told you that football has most (if not all of these) design elements plus another element not yet mentioned? I want to go through and breakdown a few and talk about not only how they relate to football but how they improve the football experience and what football might look like without those design elements.
The first element that I want to talk about is costume. I mean, technically in sports they’re called uniforms, but let’s take a look at the definition of both. The definition of costume by Merriam-Webster is, “the prevailing fashion in coiffure, jewelry, and apparel of a period, country, or class.” Uniform is defined as being, “dress of a distinctive design or fashion worn by members of a particular group and serving as a means of identification.” I think football uniforms could fall into both of those definitions. Just like costume designers tell actors what to wear in performance, there are rules and regulations telling football players what they have to wear. As a team they are able to show personality throughout the season with various different styles of uniform including home, away, blackout, retro, etc. However, as individuals the only things that they can change are their leg/arm sleeves, socks, and cleats (but even cleats have rules). Having never been a football player myself I can’t speak for sure, but I would imagine it is much like putting on your costume before a show…putting on the uniform helps get teams hyped up for their game.
The next design element that stands out to me when I’m watching football is the “set” design on the field. This can look like the logo(s) on the field or even the color of the field. Boise State and Coastal Carolina Universities are two of the most well-known non-traditional fields. Boise State plays on blue turf while on the other side of the country Coastal Carolina is playing on teal. This different colored field could have many different reasons behind it: a couple of the reasons being pride or giving themselves an upper hand over their opponent. I mean, if a team is used to playing on traditional green turf or real grass, it could easily throw them off to suddenly be playing on teal or blue. For Boise State and Coastal Carolina it is simply a part of their home performance to have their custom colored fields. Another design element of the field is the logo in the middle of it. I graduated from BYU and the normal logo in the middle of the field is the BYU “Y,” but one change to that that I distinctly remember was every year for the game around 9/11 they would add waving red and white stripes to it. Or if you think about bowl games, the logo of that bowl game is always on the field. Bowl games aren’t just normal games, so why would they keep the everyday logo on the field? It’s their final performance of the season, so they’ve got to go out with a bang.
Last, but not least, is audio/visual design. The visual part is not so new, but the audio element is brand new this year. When I talk about visual design I’m talking about the choices that are made for what to show on the jumbotron to spectators in the stadium and on the broadcast for fans watching at home. What is shown on both screens is not the same thing and depends on the cameraman who is providing that point of view. Much like the difference between watching live theatre or a film, if you are watching the broadcast of the game instead of being in the stadium (or if you are watching the jumbotron in the stadium), you are being told what to focus on. You lose your opportunity to choose your own focus. That is an element of design. Someone is choosing for the spectators what they believe to be important in the game. The audio design that I’m talking about is this new element that was introduced this year, due to COVID, of projecting spectator sounds through the stadium. When they first started doing that I thought it was the weirdest thing. It didn’t make sense to me. But as I thought about it more I realized that it actually does make a difference. I’m a director. It’s like when we are rehearsing versus when we are performing in front of an audience. Energy levels go way up on opening night because there are people there watching and responding to what is happening on stage. It must be the same with sports. The athletes’ energy levels go up when they hear fans in the stadium cheering them on. It’s completely psychological, but it makes sense!
Playing sports isn’t just walking out on the field and doing the thing. There’s clearly a lot of thought that goes into designing the experience so that everyone involved (players, fans, coaches, commentators, etc.) gets the best experience possible.