It was a full week of NFL games through mostly empty stadiums with seat covered in tarps or filled with cardboard cutouts. In 14 of the 16 stadiums, a modern NFL record was set for the lowest paid attendance — 0.
Despite the empty cavernous stadiums, we still had piped-in crowd noise, giving some atmospheric sense of a game to the home viewer. This crowd noise is controlled by the league and the home team and not by the television network.
It is called “league-curated audio” and its purpose actually is not to enhance the telecast or the experience for the few fans permitted. In a memo to teams, NFL football operations states, “the purpose of the curated audio is to create an audio landscape (i.e., a baseline ‘murmur’) that masks some field-level audio typically not audible in a stadium with fans.”
Hush, hush. Keep it down now. Voices carry.
Of course, because it is a gameday function carried out by teams, there are rules. And in some unusual ways, it intersects with the officiating department staff, but not the crews.
The curated audio is required to be turned on at kickoff and plays any time the play clock or game clock is running. It is turned off during game breaks, such as injury timeouts and commercials. Music and stadium announcements are allowed to be played over the curated audio, although as usual, no noise (other than the curated audio) can occur when the play clock hits 20, the visiting team’s center touches the ball, or the moment the ball is kicked off.
The curated audio is to be 70 decibels at field level, and when combined with music or announcements, 75 decibels. How football operations maintains compliance is a very Byzantine procedure.
Monitoring the audio levels falls into the hands of the replay field communicator. This was a position originally to be eliminated for this season only, but other logistical issues caused the league to reverse that decision. The replay communicator, known as the “Teal Hat” as part of the sideline personnel color coding system, will have a recording device with a decibel reader. While carrying this around, there are certain times they log down the decibel reading with the time on the game clock:
- First possession for both teams in the first & second half
- Visiting team offensive third downs
- Visiting team offensive short yardage situations
- Visiting team goal line plays
- 2-3 additional spot checks during each quarter
At halftime and at the end of the game, the Teal Hat will communicate any noise over the threshold to the replay assistant, who will then inform the appropriate member of the football operations staff. They will also turn in the reader at the end of the game so the recording can be uploaded by the stadium’s sideline technician.
Sensing a whiff of Deflategate-like protests for measurements, the memo clearly says that the Teal Hat only takes instruction from football operations or officiating staff.
The procedures were finalized the day before the Texans-Chiefs kickoff game.
Decades ago, the officiating staff had to enforce a very clunky and poorly conceived crowd noise rule. Now, some in the officiating department still have to deal with it in another sense. But now, they won’t be booed.