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NFL warns teams that breaking its rules on fake crowd noise could result in harsh penalties

MetLife Stadium remained devoid of fans before a Giants scrimmage Thursday. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The NFL finalized its policies for the use of artificial crowd noise inside stadiums and on television broadcasts of games this season, sending those guidelines to teams Thursday and warning them that any violations of the rules could result in fines, suspensions or the loss of draft picks.

The league outlined the procedures in a memo sent from the NFL’s football operations department to team presidents, general managers, head coaches and other staff members. The NFL’s regular season begins Thursday and most teams have announced plans to play games in stadiums without fans, at least in the season’s early stages, because of state and local restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

According to the league’s memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, the league developed “club specific audio pallets (crowd noise) for each NFL club” through NFL Films sound engineers.

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The crowd-noise audio used in the TV broadcasts will be “reactive to game situations,” according to the NFL’s memo. The crowd-noise audio on the broadcasts is “League-controlled,” the memo says, adding that an audio engineer hired by the league office will work collaboratively with the networks to incorporate the audio in the game broadcasts.

The separate audio of prerecorded crowd noise for use inside the stadium is to be played at a constant 70 decibels.

“The purpose of the curated audio is to create an audio landscape (i.e., a baseline ‘murmur’) that masks some field-level audio typically not audible in a stadium with fans,” the NFL’s memo said. “This curated audio is different than the dynamic club and stadium specific audio that will be used in the broadcast.”

The in-stadium crowd-noise audio is to be played in stadiums without fans. It also is to be played initially in those stadiums with fans, and the league told teams that it will reevaluate the use of artificial crowd noise in stadiums with fans as the season progresses.

The combined artificial crowd noise and any music or audio prompts played within a stadium at allowable times during a game cannot exceed 75 decibels.

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To ensure compliance, the NFL told teams that decibel readings will be taken from the sideline by a league representative during games. Each team must submit contact information for the person responsible for overseeing in-stadium audio. A team must submit to the league, by the Wednesday following a home game, a recording of the video board feed accompanied with the stadium PA from the game.

“Violations of any of the policies ... may result in the imposition of fines on the club, fines and/or suspensions of persons involved, and/or the forfeiture of a draft choice(s), including for first offenses,” the NFL’s memo says. “Ignorance of a policy or rule set forth in this Manual will not be considered a mitigating factor with respect to the assessment of accountability measures.”

The league office developed the policies in conjunction with the NFL’s competition committee through deliberations that began in early July. Teams offered input after testing their audio files during practices and stadium scrimmages.