The introduction of artificial crowd noise into NFL broadcasts is a complicated process. It involves trained audio engineers working a soundboard of recorded audio clips that are divided into different categories and ratcheted up in intensity based on the game situation.
The implementation was uneven at best in Week 1, but it went better this weekend. For example, fans watching at home as the Eagles were blown out by the Rams were treated to a familiar sound: the home crowd booing Philadelphia’s poor play.
On at least two occasions, viewers heard Carson Wentz and the Eagles offense get showered with boos—once after a failed third-down conversion and then after Wentz threw a pick in the end zone. (The guy in charge of the fake crowd noise for the NFL told The Washington Post that boo clips would only be used for bad calls, not poor play, but the person operating the board should be commended for their use of artistic license and ensuring a more authentic experience for the fans at home.)
The Eagles' being abused by recorded Philly fans is obviously very funny, but it’s not quite what it seems. Although the moment quickly went viral and inspired articles about Eagles players being subjected to boos in an empty stadium, that’s unfortunately not true.
Because the NFL can only ever do things in the most complicated way possible, the fake crowd noise is more complex than it seems. While MLB broadcasts pick up the in-stadium fake crowd noise and relay it back to the viewer, NFL games have two layers of artificial noise. In the stadium, the crowd noise that is piped through the speakers is a constant loop of an audio file the league provides to each team. (Niners coach Kyle Shanahan called the constant white noise “torture.”) According to a memo distributed by the league, that audio must be playing whenever the play clock is running, at a level not exceeding 70 dBs. Even in stadiums that are admitting fans, the league is requiring teams to pipe in fake crowd noise (at least at the beginning of the season).
The broadcast audio is different, though. Unlike the in-stadium noise, the broadcast sound is controlled by a human being and varies based on the game situation. So while fans at home were hearing Philly fans engage in the decades-long tradition of heckling their own players, the guys on the field just heard the same steady stream of white noise they’d been hearing all afternoon.
It must have been a little weird for Wentz not to hear boos in that situation, but he’s probably not complaining.
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