Thursday, June 17, 2010
Who ate all the fans?
The news that the North Korean barmy army is in fact made up of Chinese actors, and that the Chinese are entirely open about the fact, shouldn’t really surprise us, especially after the gloriously brazen stage management of the Beijing Olympics. But it does raise the question of what purpose the fans – the ones who actually show up to the World Cup stadiums – actually serve.
Clearly, at this exalted level at least, the revenue from ticket sales is pretty much negligible when compared with TV and sponsorship money. Look at the case of the 36 orange-clad lovelies who were ejected from the Netherlands-Denmark match; the objection was that they appeared to be indulging in a spot of ambush marketing on behalf of a beer brand that wasn’t one of FIFA’s approved ‘partners’. The fact that they got in thanks to Robbie Earle’s ticket allocation seems to have been little more than a minor irritation to the tournament’s organisers, and it was down to his employers at ITV to discipline him. Surely we can infer from this that FIFA is more concerned about upsetting Budweiser than any legitimate Dutch or Danish fans who couldn’t get in?
And yet, at one level, FIFA needs fans at the grounds. They provide the atmosphere, the noise, the excitement that enhances what has, for the most part, been a pretty uninspiring tournament so far. And the TV viewers tend to agree; they refuse to dampen those vuvuzelas with the mute button, not because they’ll miss the inanities of the commentators (see here for a particularly savage indictment of the sheer crapness of TV pundits) but because they feel there’s something weirdly sterile about watching millionaires playing badly in silence.
This doesn’t just apply to sporting events, of course. With a few exceptions, most comedy and game shows on TV and radio are still recorded in front of a live audience; supposedly, it makes the armchair viewer feel more involved in what’s going in the studio. And yet, anybody who’s been in the studio while one of these programmes is made knows that the experience can be deeply frustrating and tedious, with constant glitches, hold-ups and retakes. The most enjoyable bit is often the warm-up person who’s sent out to distract the punters from thoughts of mutiny during these pauses; and the TV audience doesn’t know he even exists. Moreover, if the show being made isn’t particularly established or popular, it’s quite feasible that a large chunk of the audience has no idea what it’s about or who’s involved until they’ve taken their seats. Several American sitcoms used to be prefaced with the boast that they were “recorded in front of a live audience” because that reassured TV viewers that they weren’t listening to canned laughter. But the live audience is prompted and chivvied and prodded to give the desired response; and if they don’t come up with the goods, the producer can always tweak the recording afterwards, to make them sound more enthusiastic than they really were.
Which takes us back to those TV viewers, who almost feel as if they’re there because of the ooh-ing and aah-ing and paaaaaaaaaaarp-ing coming from the flatscreen. But if they know that a good proportion of the noise comes, not from diehard supporters of the teams involved, but from actors hired by the Chinese authorities, or models hired by a Dutch brewery, or friends of friends of a bloke who used to play for Port Vale, will they still want to play along?
PS: Well, this guy’s already decided:
PPS: And then of course there’s: