This Day In Sports: Before vacant stands became a pandemic norm

April 29, 2015: For the first time in history, attendance at a big league game is zero, as the Baltimore Orioles defeat the Chicago White Sox 8-2 in an empty Camden Yards. Fans were banned from the ballpark due to rioting in the area in protest of the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died after being injured while in police custody. The most peculiar moment of the afternoon came in the first inning when the O’s Chris Davis launched a three-run homer off former Boise Hawk Jeff Samardzija—in total silence. The unrest in Baltimore also forced the Orioles to move a home series against the Rays that weekend to Tampa Bay.

Five years later vacant stadiums would be the norm as the COVID pandemic took hold. The 2020 Major League Baseball season was delayed until July 23 and reduced to 60 games, all plated behind closed doors. Cardboard cutouts and fake crowd noise only added to the bizarre scenario. The Boise Hawks season was canceled altogether, as was all of Minor League Baseball. There are no attendance restrictions this year, but crowd sizes have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The NFL tried to proceed with its season as scheduled later in the year, but nearly every team opened with no fans in the seats. And more than 20 games had to be postponed during the fall. The Mountain West delayed its season until October 24, and Boise State played its first two home games in an empty Albertsons Stadium. (save for the cutouts). Linebacker Riley Whimpey’s mom spearheaded a push to at least let family members in. So 1100 fans were allowed in for the next two home dates against BYU and Colorado State. The home finale versus San Jose State, however, was canceled just hours before kickoff.

The NBA had to pause its season in March of 2020, only to resume it in July in a crowd-less “bubble” in Orlando. The 2020-21 Boise State men’s basketball season opened with no fans in ExtraMile Arena—the policy was changed in mid-February, with 900 allowed in for the remainder of the season. Probably the most visible and striking example of the void in fan engagement and energy was felt at the 2020 Summer Olympics, postponed until 2021 in Tokyo. Fans were not allowed in the Olympic venues, sucking the life out of the Summer Games.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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