The intimidation of the Black Hole. The roar of Arrowhead. The Mardi Gras insanity inside the Super Dome. The vibrating cacophony at CenturyLink.
None of it matters. Nope. One place is just the same as the other. Cookie cutter stadiums. Zero differences.
That’s the inference you can take from Commissioner Roger Goodell’s ludicrous statement that there is no such thing as fans helping to create a homefield advantage.
“I would probably take issue with the fact that it’s a huge competitive advantage,” Goodell said on CNBC last week. “As you know, our stadium sizes are different across the league. The attendance is different on a normal season.
“We do not see, and our clubs do not see a competitive advantage at all whether fans are in one stadium or another.”
Goodell has said some dumb, disingenuous things before. This is right up in the pantheon of ridiculous remarks.
Aside from flipping his middle finger to fans who pay thousands of dollars annually to come to games to support and cheer their team, and who consider themselves — thanks to extensive NFL marketing that says so — a very integral part of that team, it’s pretty transparent why Goodell is taking this stand.
Some of his owners — most importantly his primary boss, Jerry Jones — want to make as much money as they can. And if that would give them a competitive advantage over the majority of teams who won’t be allowed to start the season with fans, too bad.
Twenty-six of the league’s 32 teams, including the 49ers, will not be able to open the season with fans. Some teams may never be able to have fans during the 2020 season, even at reduced capacity. Yet five teams plan to allow fans in varying degrees of reduced capacity to open the season, including the Dallas Cowboys (the Cleveland Browns remain in limbo). Not surprisingly, Jones, who may be allowed to have up to 50% of his 105,000-seat stadium full, thinks the plan is “absolutely fair.”
It is absolutely not. Not financially. And not competitively. Anyone who knows anything about the NFL knows fans make a difference.
“I think the fans definitely give you an advantage, especially on defense,” 49ers pass-rusher Dee Ford said earlier this year. “I would rather see it just one way (for all teams). I feel like we would be lying to ourselves if we say it doesn’t play a role in a game.”
If there is no homefield advantage, why is the home team almost always automatically awarded three points by Las Vegas bookmakers? If there is no homefield advantage why do home teams win close to 60% of the time (at some stadiums it is even more)?
If there is no homefield advantage, why do teams practice with deafening crowd noise before heading to Kansas City or New Orleans or Seattle? Why do offenses practice with a silent count in case they can’t be heard? Why did opposing teams speak with dread of traveling to Oakland — to a now-defunct home advantage?
When the pandemic started, the NFL was playing fair. Back in the spring, the league announced it would not allow any team to hold in-person OTAs unless all 32 could. That never happened as the coronavirus flared and raged throughout the spring and the NFL feverishly worked to come up with a plan that would allow teams to hold training camp.
“Everything else in this offseason has been equity,” Raiders owner Mark Davis told The Athletic this summer. “And then, you get into attendance at the stadium and all of a sudden, it’s the wild, wild west. ‘You all make your own decisions, don’t look at us. It’s not up to us.’ It’s like, whoa!”
The decision to allow fans does not rest with the NFL owners or the league. It rests with the public health officials in each state and county that is home to a team. In many locales, politics has taken precedence over science. Yet Goodell — always blabbering on about health being a priority — thinks it’s fine to punish 26 teams who have no control over the environment they will play in.
Goodell predicts that more and more teams will allow fans as the season progresses. He may be right, or a another wave of the virus may sweep through areas and he may be wrong. It’s hard to imagine Santa Clara County giving the all-clear any time soon to the 49ers.
Levi’s Stadium spent its first five years struggling to find a home field advantage. But the 49ers crowd finally seemed to figure it out last season, as the team put together a 13-3 record, 6-2 at home.
After the NFC divisional game against Minnesota, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was effusive about the crowd, saying, “You could hear the fans in pregame warmups. The stadium was electric. It was different.”
Last season, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh urged 49ers fans to make noise in their home game against Seattle home game, saying “Get loud, get loud. … Everyone talks about Seattle having an unbelievable home-field advantage, but I know this stadium can get loud, too. If we’re loud, they have to go silent.”
Now his defensive players will have to create that energy themselves.
“Not having fans, it’s a thing, obviously,” Saleh said this week. “But as far as intensity goes, I think our guys are going to go out there.”
Out there into the quiet, while some teams will have at least some fans cheering and Jones may have 50,000. Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer called it unfair. Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott called it “honestly ridiculous.”
But not to the commish. He’s just fine with telling the paying customers they don’t matter one way or the other.