The sound of silence: when will common sense prevail over music at live sport?

Sports marketing must be a fiendishly difficult job. It has to be, because so many people are so bad at it. You have to assume it’s unfathomably taxing, that you might reasonably interrupt a conversation between a rocket scientist and a brain surgeon by reminding them: “Yes, but it’s not exactly sports marketing, is it?” Orchestrating the stadium entertainment seems to be particularly challenging. It’s not as if people have come just to watch the sport, after all, they expect fireworks and flames, a 360-degree sportainment experience with lasers, lights, mascots, and music, always music, in every moment.

Last Saturday the umpires in the second Test between South Africa and Australia at St George’s Park ordered the brass band in the stands to stop playing because they found the sound too distracting. The band walked out in protest. So the crowd started chanting “we want the band,” and the musicians struck up playing again after tea. The twist is Cricket South Africa recently started playing music over the PA between each delivery in their Twenty20 games, so every swing and miss and poke and prod was followed with a quick hit of Snap or Ini Kamoze.

Cricket has a habit of doing this. The ICC banned all musical instruments from its “Carnival of Cricket” World Cup in the West Indies back in 2007. The papare bands at the P Sara Oval in Colombo are often told to pipe down. And Billy Cooper, The Barmy Army’s trumpeter, has been kicked out of a bunch of grounds because he wasn’t allowed to blow his horn. All the better to allow everyone to enjoy another tinny blast of 10cc’s Dreadlock Holiday. Seems the atmosphere at the ground is much too important to be left to the fans, and is best served canned over the stadium PA.

It’s not just cricket. World Rugby banned Scottish fans from bringing bagpipes to the last World Cup. The England team’s travelling band have been shut out of this summer’s football World Cup, as they were the 2012 European Championship finals. Now, you may very well agree with those decisions. The St George’s Park brass band do make a hell of a racket. And no one wants to spend 80 minutes stood right beside a guy playing the bagpipes. But then you have to remember what the alternative is: the piped-in music provided by the marketing department.

It’s stiff to pin responsibility for all this on any one individual. But the hard truth is that there’s a 21-year-old woman in New England with a lot to answer for. She’s called Caroline. And when she was born, in 1997, a friend of her parents, Amy Tobey, who had a job picking the music they play over the PA when the Red Sox are at Fenway Park, decided to celebrate with Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. The Red Sox won. Tobey was superstitious, so started to play it again every now and then, it in the seventh and ninth innings when the team were winning. Until her new boss decided to make it the Fenway anthem.

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