SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — The first time I stayed up to watch the Korean Baseball Organization, or KBO and its ‘Opening Day’ live on ESPN, I was intrigued. Unsure of what to expect I figured, ‘Hey it’s baseball.’. While that portion of my assumption was correct, assuming that my viewing experience would be largely unchanged, well that was incorrect.
Broadcasting a game that is taking place thousands of miles away brings about obvious challenges, and ESPN has been experiencing plenty of difficulty in the early going. Play-by-play announcer, or host as he has turned out to be, Karl Ravech has had analyst Eduardo Perez talk over him several times, while the video feed for the broadcasts has also dropped out at times, among other struggles.
With that being said, the discussion during the broadcast has had a few bright spots, as its been interesting and informative, while the play on the field has had me engaged. Although I’m sick of hearing about bat flips, ESPN’s broadcast team has done a nice job providing topical information regarding both the KBO and the effect the coronavirus has had on American baseball.
In the end the biggest difference comes down to the lack of fans in the stands, and the effect it has had on the viewing experience.
Although the KBO has introduced a group of ‘cheerleaders’ that remain socially distant in the stands (only god knows why), the lack of response to a big play, a home run, or a big strikeout is difficult to ignore. Although I expect when American baseball does indeed return that it too will experience games without fans, there is something about the presence of each team’s crowd that I never thought I would miss while watching a game on television.
Typically, when you talk about fan experience you’re referring to being in an arena or stadium where you’re able to truly drink in the spectactle of it all. However, as I watch these first few KBO games, what I find myself missing most of all is the energy from the fans jumping out of the speakers and enhancing the play on the field. While professional-level hitting, pitching and fielding is clearly on display in the KBO, the validation from the fans on a great play, a big pitch or a home run has been something that has effected the viewing experience.
In the end, it is what it is.
The circumstances we find ourselves in with this COVID-19 pandemic will likely dictate American sports being played without fans for the extended future, - that is after they eventually begin in the first place- and that’s just something we will have to get used to.