With the major sports in America all starting or restarting, we can confirm one thing — fans are essential to sports.

I believe we have always thought it was true, but after watching soccer and baseball games along with NBA scrimmages there just is no doubt about it.

Sure, little league games and AAU summer tournaments are games, but you cannot compare the atmosphere of the fourth game of the day on Court No. 6 in July in a giant fieldhouse somewhere to what the Tiger Den will be like on the night before Thanksgiving when Warsaw hosts Tippecanoe Valley.

The difference: fans.

Pumped in crowd noise makes sports broadcasts more palatable. But watching English Premier League matches since they restarted play just drove home the fact that the audience is, in-fact, part of the experience.

If you asked an actor if performing in an empty theater or in front of a live audience is more preferable, I am guessing they would say being in front of a crowd was better by a large margin.

There is an energy delivered by spectators that is tangible.

Think about all the keys moments in any sporting event, and then realize that what brings that moment to its fullest is the crowd.

During a football game, it’s the fourth quarter and the visiting team in a one score game faces a third down and six. The home crowd is howling at the top of its collective lungs to make it harder on the opposing offense execute their play. They are, in that case, a de facto 12th defender.  

Bases loaded, two outs, 3-2 pitch is due and the crowd is on its feet in full voice to heap pressure on the pitcher. They are, in this case, a united voice on behalf of their team to make the pitcher aim for a place that seems the size of a needle point.

In basketball, the visiting team has scored six straight points and now trail by four. The home fans supply thier team with a cheer carrying the message “c’mon, let’s get this thing turned around!” They are, in this moment, sending encouragement en masse to their team.

Oh, and of course, when times are tough and things are unacceptably bleak, fans will remind their team that their level of play and/or effort is substandard — they boo. In this, they are like an accountability partner speaking hard truth to someone they care for very much.

There won’t be any of that at the professional level, it looks more and more likely there won’t be any (or maybe very little) at the college level, and high schools are anyone’s guess with less than a week before fall sports are to start official practices.

I think one of the hardest things in life is to accurately assess what is happening around us. Is this new friend I met a good person for me to be with? Is this job applicant sitting across from me the right fit for our team? Are my kids on the right path? Are my finances square?

Sports, and life in general, are better when we see things for what they really are. But the wisdom and discernment of being able to “see” those kinds of things is rare and fleeting.

We know, without a doubt, that fans matter. Sports organizations at all levels are actively seeking out ways to entice people to come to their games and auxiliary events, and then to keep them coming back.

For a long time, the games “sold themselves.” Now, sports leaders are increasingly playing the role of marketing campaign managers.

Fans have a role to play in sports—both those who are in attendance at a particular game and those who are not.

Hopefully, when they are able to participate, they will.