The United Soccer League will not utilize artificial crowd noise during its ESPN broadcasts when the organization returns to action this month in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The second-tier USL Championship will resume live competition on July 11 and the third-tier USL League One will return on July 18.
Setting a precedent in North America amid the coronavirus crisis, teams will play in their home venues, via regionalized groups, and in front of spectators where permitted.
Already some USL Championship teams have announced plans to have limited spectators, including El Paso Locomotive, Louisville City, OKC Energy, Real Monarchs, Saint Louis FC, and Indy Eleven.
The USL will have a minimum of 20 matches on linear television in the month of July, between ESPN2 and the Spanish-language ESPN Deportes, as well as games on direct-to-consumer platform ESPN+. The broadcast schedule for August, September, and October has yet to be determined.
In the absence of fans in stadiums, the vast majority of US broadcasts of professional soccer leagues have included artificial crowd noise, including the Premier League on NBC Sports, the NWSL Challenge Cup on CBS, and the Bundesliga on Fox Sports.
But the USL is choosing not to go down this route, in large part because there will be spectators in many arenas.
Court Jeske, the USL executive vice president, told SportBusiness: “It’s interesting to look at some of the tools that have been provided to fans, whether it be through a Zoom supporters’ section or piped-in crowd noise. There are different ways that fans are engaging the game that they haven’t before.
“We’ve looked at all these things and ultimately we are going to chart our own path and be our own brand of soccer as we return. We have chosen not to include artificial crowd noise out of the gate because we will have fans in the game. And even a handful of supporters can make quite a bit of noise if they are the right ones. So we are going to stay away from any kind of gimmicky digital adaptations and focus on the soccer on the field and making sure our fans have lots of ways to consume it,” Jeske added.
The USL Championship was suspended in March after just one round of action due to the coronavirus. During the hiatus, the USL organization created two esports competitions to help fill the void, the “USL eCup: Fifa20 Edition” and the “USL eCup: Rocket League Edition.”
As revealed by SportBusiness, the USL furloughed some staff in its head office in Tampa, Florida, to help mitigate financial losses. This week the USL sealed commercial deals with Stats Perform and Sportradar.