A Brief History of Pro Sports Played in Empty Stadiums

Getty Images
Getty Images

On Monday and Tuesday, the Orioles canceled their scheduled games at Camden Yards against the White Sox due to safety concerns related to the protests in Baltimore. But making up games over the course of the long and crowded MLB season schedule is difficult, and so, yesterday, the team announced an unusual solution—one that has never been used in the history of the game. Wednesday's game at Camden Yards will still be played, but no fans will be permitted to attend. That's right: The teams will play today in front of an empty stadium—intentionally.

According to a tweet from MLB's Official Historian John Thorn, this is the first time such a solution has been used to accommodate extenuating circumstances. But thanks to the wacky promotional tactics employed in the Minor Leagues, it's not the first zero-attendance game.

In July 2002, the Charleston RiverDogs—then a Class A affiliate of Tampa Bay (now a Yankees' affiliate owned by Bill Murray)—decided that the best way to attract people to their games was to not let anyone watch them. Or something. As part of the aptly-named “Nobody Night,” the gates to Joe Riley Stadium were padlocked with paying customers on the outside as the game got underway. And the fans loved it. “'Nobody Night' promotion a big hit,” touted USA Today.

"We're RiverDogs fans and could not pass up the opportunity to have truly terrible seats," 50-year-old Stephen Parker told the outlet. "I've had bad seats but this is ridiculous." He and Ute Appleby, 47, watched the first few innings through the outfield fence. "I've had much worse seats than this at Yankee Stadium," he said.

After five innings had passed, rendering the game official with a record-setting lack of attendance, fans were allowed inside to watch the remainder of the 4-2 RiverDogs’ loss; all the runs were scored before the gates were opened.

On the Major League level, today’s game will break the current record for lowest attendance (although that’s hardly the headline that should be coming out of Baltimore) set on September 28, 1882 when the Worcester Ruby Legs drew just six fans (they weren't very good).

Soccer Exception

Although it’s an aberration in American sports, banning fans from the game has happened repeatedly at international soccer matches as an extreme punishment.

Last October, the UEFA ordered CSKA Moscow to play three games in an empty stadium after a group of their fans threw flares on the pitch, displayed racist banners, and instigated fights with police at a game in Rome. In fact, it was the second time in just two months that Moscow fans were banned from the stadium for racist behavior. CSKA was barred from selling tickets to its fans for popular away matches at Manchester City and Bayern Munich and was slapped with a hefty fine.

In March, 2014, Japanese soccer team the Urawa Red Diamonds played in an empty stadium after fans hung a “Japanese only” banner in an entranceway during an earlier home game. After the photo of the banner went viral, the team banned 20 members of the offending group from future games, but J-League officials insisted on extending the ban to all fans, forcing the team to play for nobody.

What Happens to the Losing Team's Pre-Printed Championship Shirts?

Adam Glanzman, Getty Images
Adam Glanzman, Getty Images

Following a big win in the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, or any other major sporting event, fans want to get their hands on championship merchandise as quickly as possible. To meet this demand and cash in on the wallet-loosening "We’re #1" euphoria, manufacturers and retailers produce and stock two sets of T-shirts, hats, and other merchandise that declare each team the champ.

On Super Bowl Sunday, that means apparel for the winner—either the New England Patriots or the Los Angeles Rams—will quickly fill clothing racks and gets tossed to players on the field once the game concludes. But what happens to the losing team's clothing? It's destined for charity.

Good360, a charitable organization based in Alexandria, Virginia, handles excess consumer merchandise and distributes it to those in need overseas. The losing team's apparel—usually shirts, hats, and sweatshirts—will be held in inventory locations across the U.S. Following the game, Good360 will be informed of exactly how much product is available and will then determine where the goods can best be of service.

Good360 chief marketing officer Shari Rudolph tells Mental Floss there's no exact count just yet. But in the past, the merchandise has been plentiful. Based on strong sales after the Chicago Bears’s 2007 NFC Championship win, for example, Sports Authority printed more than 15,000 shirts proclaiming a Bears Super Bowl victory well before the game even started. And then the Colts beat the Bears, 29-17.

Good360 took over the NFL's excess goods distribution in 2015. For almost two decades prior, an international humanitarian aid group called World Vision collected the unwanted items for MLB and NFL runners-up at its distribution center in Pittsburgh, then shipped them overseas to people living in disaster areas and impoverished nations. After losing Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, Arizona Cardinals gear was sent to children and families in El Salvador. In 2010, after the New Orleans Saints defeated Indianapolis, the Colts gear printed up for Super Bowl XLIV was sent to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

In 2011, after Pittsburgh lost to the Green Bay Packers, the Steelers Super Bowl apparel went to Zambia, Armenia, Nicaragua, and Romania.

Fans of the Super Bowl team that comes up short can take heart: At least the spoils of losing will go to a worthy cause.

An earlier version of this story appeared in 2009. Additional reporting by Jake Rossen.

All images courtesy of World Vision, unless otherwise noted.

Super Bowl 2019: How to Live Stream the Big Game

Andy Lyons, Getty Images
Andy Lyons, Getty Images

How big is the Super Bowl? Last year, 103.4 million viewers watched as the Philadelphia Eagles pulled an upset victory over the New England Patriots. Previous editions from 2010 to 2017 rank among the 10 most-watched television programs of all time, dominating a list with only one non-NFL entry: the 1983 series finale of M*A*S*H.

This Sunday’s Super Bowl LIII meeting between the returning Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams also promises to be a tremendous attraction for viewers, but the 6:30 p.m. ET kickoff on CBS won’t necessarily require you to have a broadcast antenna or cable subscription. There are a number of ways to live stream the big game.

You can point your browser to CBSSports.com, where the network will be offering the entire event at no charge. If you prefer to use an app, the CBS Sports App can be downloaded and used on your Android or iOS smartphone or via one of the major TV devices like Roku, Chromecast, or Amazon Fire TV.

CBS also has a paid streaming service, CBS All Access, that will broadcast the game to subscribers. Why opt for the $9.99 service when the game is free elsewhere? CBS All Access offers a huge library of content, including original series like Star Trek: Discovery and The Good Fight. It also offers a one-week free trial.

Want more options? Both Hulu and YouTube are rolling out live television options with local affiliates. You’ll have to check the services to see whether CBS is one of the options in your area. Hulu charges $44.99 a month for more than 60 channels of live television. YouTube’s services, dubbed YouTubeTV, run $40. You can also find similar cable bundle-type plans with DirecTV Now and Playstation Vue.

If you’re unsure which to choose, remember that not all of them carry Animal Planet, which will broadcast Puppy Bowl XV at 3 p.m. ET.

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