Sports column: Small, empty stadiums are a TV treat

Published 4:00 am Friday, June 7, 2024

One of the great joys of watching sports on TV — for me, at least — is not with a thrilling Game 7 or sharing a cultural moment with a fantastic finish to a football game.

It’s with finding weird stuff on the deepest, darkest recesses of the cable spectrum. Pickleball tournaments. Wiffleball. Spikeball. Australian Rules Football. I might not watch a full game, but I will almost always get sucked in for a couple of minutes when I stumble across it.

It’s not just the strange sports, though. It’s also the odd venues normal sports are played in.

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An NFL or large college football game has enough atmosphere to be somewhat generic. A small or mostly-empty stadium passing by in the background as players run up and down a field is a visual treat.

Seeing a soccer field with one grandstand in the backwaters of Brazil, or a college baseball game with a chain link fence for a backstop jar the senses. A Division III football stadium where a player runs through the back of the end zone and onto the track is amusing. Throw in some bad weather and it gets even better. A Basketball Africa League in front of an empty arena on NBA TV? Sure, why not?

I’ll occasionally scroll through the offerings on ESPN+ just to find these games.

College baseball games from the northeast, especially when it’s still 36 degrees there in March, are always good for a laugh. I’ll watch the 22 people slowly succumbing to hypothermia in the metal bleachers and wonder what made them subject themselves to this? Do the loved ones they’ve come to watch appreciate their sacrifice?

During a baseball game from Bellarmine University in Kentucky a couple of weeks ago, there was a chain link fence and a concession stand right behind home plate. You could watch the game and someone ordering nachos at the same time.

I have no idea why this sort of thing fascinates me so much, other than we all have our quirks. Maybe it’s the desire to see something unique, since there can’t be more than a few hundred people around the country watching some of these games. It’s like some exclusive, sad little fraternity I’ve joined.

It could also be that I see some of these places and realize how good we have it down here in Mississippi. We love our sports here. While there are plenty of small fields and sparse crowds, we also have some venues that would put other places to shame and a lot of lively crowds for things like college baseball and softball.

It’s a little thing to be proud of as a state, but it’s something.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to turn on the Tennis Channel and see what’s shaking at a first-round match on Tuesday afternoon in Rabat. I bet that place is jumping.

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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