The Pittsburgh Steelers have stepped into a stadium three times this year, twice at home in Heinz Field, and each time, they have managed to come out of it with a victory. But how much is it really a homefield advantage if there’s nobody there to see it, to experience it—to participate in it?
Fan attendance has been one thing that has been widely talked about this year in terms of competitive advantages for teams, and one that has been tossed out the window. Each individual team will either be permitted or prohibited from allowing fans to attend based on their unique circumstances, without regard for ‘fairness’.
The Steelers were not permitted to have fans in attendance for their first two games, and in J.J. Watt’s words, it has been ‘weird’. You can easily hear a blimp flying—or hovering—or flying—overhead as though you’re not actually, at that moment, participating in a major sporting event.
As you would imagine, it wasn’t just weird for the visiting team. The Steelers have felt it as well. Ben Roethlisberger admitted today that you’re “not feeling the energy as much” in the stadium when there is nobody in the seats.
“The noise is what it is. That plays into it a little bit in terms of a silent count and things like that”, he said “When we are on the road, it is a packed house, usually a lot of Steelers fans. It’s always loud. Being able
to communicate is a big deal. The most part, it’s just that energy. The end of the game, we were taking a
knee and it just felt like we were almost ending a practice. It just had a really weird feeling to it”.
Remember, the Steelers spent the entirety of training camp at Heinz Field this year because the NFL prohibited the few teams who still travel to an off-site location for training camp from doing so. There are plenty of eerie images and videos from that time filled with those bright yellow seats with nobody in them, something you’re simply not used to seeing when the team is in the stadium.
But hopefully it may be the last game played at Heinz Field for which the Steelers will be playing to furniture. Over the past several days, team president Art Rooney II said that he is hopeful they will be permitted to host fans in time for their next home game against the Philadelphia Eagles in week five, and hoping for something close to 20 percent capacity.
There have been games played with a small number of fans already this year. The Steelers have not been involved in any of them yet, though their game against the Titans is supposed to be one. It will be interesting to see how different the game feels with even a small number of fans, but even that will be hard to tell without actually being there, with the steps the broadcast has taken to make the game feel ‘normal’.