A Brief History of Pro Sports Played in Empty Stadiums
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).
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.