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With no fans in stands, NBC to add crowd noise to Premier League game broadcasts

Roberto Firmino of Liverpool controls the ball during

Roberto Firmino of Liverpool controls the ball during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool FC at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on January 11, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. Credit: Getty Images/Shaun Botterill

The polite term is “atmospheric-enhanced audio,” more commonly known as fake crowd noise. Whatever you call it, NBC has gone all-in on the strategy as it prepares to bring back Premier League soccer on Wednesday.

After many initially balked, there is a growing consensus among media executives that most sports benefit from added sounds when they must be played in empty stadiums during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pierre Moossa, NBC’s coordinating producer, said on Thursday that he has “done a complete 180” on the subject, in part after watching games from Germany’s Bundesliga that Fox began showing in mid-May.

Initially, the German games were presented only with natural sounds. Later, crowd noise was added, to widespread acclaim.

Moossa recalled a meeting before the Bundesliga returned in which the consensus at NBC was “absolutely, ‘We have to be authentic. We feel disingenuous by adding crowd effects. You shouldn’t do that.’

“Then you watch the first match and it was a very different experience.”

The crowd audio actually is not fake, in the sense that EA Sports will provide audio taken from actual games played previously in the same stadium with the same opponents.

Moossa said EA sampled 92 different such sounds and those will be used to match game situations.

For purists who frown upon such things, NBC will provide a feed without enhancement via streaming platforms.

In all, NBC plans to carry live games — most on NBCSN — on 35 of 40 days starting on Wednesday, as the Premier League concludes the season that was interrupted in March.

The studio portion of coverage will represent a return for NBC of producing programming out of its Stamford, Connecticut, facilities for the first time since March.

But White and analysts Lee Dixon and Graeme Le Saux will do games on-site at Premier League stadiums. They need not face travel and quarantine complications because they already are based in the United Kingdom.

White said he is comfortable with the safety protocols in place and is eager to fulfill a “journalistic” itch to be on hand for a major story. “I’m intrigued,” he said.

Among many other things, playing in June and July will be a new experience for British soccer.

“We mustn’t forget this is a historical moment and this has never happened before,” studio host Rebecca Lowe said. “I might come out in a rash. I’ve never had to work in the summer.”

With North American team sports still on hold, this is a chance for enhanced visibility for British soccer.

As White put it, “There’s an opportunity to showcase the Premier League — albeit in circumstances that are not ideal — to new soccer fans.

“Maybe friends and family of people that would usually be watching in a bar but now obviously are watching at home can maybe drag a few other people that are in their household down to the sofa and explain a bit to them.”

White said it will be “very odd” to work in an empty stadium, but that the same crowd noise that viewers hear at home will be fed into the announcers’ headsets to help them get into the spirit.

“It will sound like an actual game,” he said, “albeit that you look around and the crowd isn’t there.”

New York Sports