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Trust Me, Sports Without Fans Is Not Sports

MELBOURNE, Australia — For roughly the past two decades, the analytics crowd has peddled the idea that sports is essentially math, that what unfolds on the field of play is predictable and intelligible if viewed through a proper algorithm. Occasionally that crowd has even been right. And in many ways the pandemic sports environment was an analytics aficionado’s dream, a chance for games to unfold in a laboratory, free of the noise, both literal and figurative, that can turn an expected outcome into a beautiful mess.

Now, nearly a year into the coronavirus pandemic, we really do know the roar of the crowd is as vital to sports as a ball or a net.