If I Ran ESPN (or Any Other Network Carrying the World Cup) …

When you turn on the TV to watch a World Cup match, it sounds as if it’s being played deep inside a very noisy beehive. You may think your TV is malfunctioning, as some viewers thought at the conclusion of The Sopranos. You may wait for the noise to subside. (It won’t.) Maybe you’ll even change the channel. That’s what I’d be worried about if I were running ESPN, which is carrying the World Cup here. The noise is that distracting, and has brought complaints from fans, players, and viewers. If you care at all about this, you already know that the noise comes from vuvuzelas, the plastic horns that South African fans blow nonstop in the stadium. (Such horns are hardly an African invention, or nuisance: my friends and I used to blow them for our stellar team at Appalachian State University.) You may even know that there is some talk of banning the horns. (Can’t be too hard: they’re not allowed at rugby matches in South Africa.) But if I’m running ESPN, I don’t want to take that chance. I’d send a bunch of interns with sacks of cash inside the stadium to buy up every vuvuzela within earshot. It’s hard to imagine I couldn’t quiet things down for a five-figure sum.

Fan noise is a funny thing. I’ve always thought it was strange that basketball fans can do just about anything imaginable to distract an opposing player at the foul line, whereas you can’t make a squeak as a tennis player is about to serve. Is it really so much harder to hit a tennis serve than sink a free throw? I would love to see what the Cameron Crazies could achieve at Wimbledon.

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  1. Eileen Wyatt says:

    Let’s say your intern is assigned to one of the 40,000-seat stadiums and that 1 in 4 fans has a vuvuzela. Assume the bargaining is efficient so only one minute is needed to buy each vuvuzela and time for walking around the stadium is negligible.

    Clearing a stadium of vuvuzelas would take 167 hours, or the better part of a week. Alternatively, it would take 167 interns to clear the stadium in an hour. Not an economically efficient solution.

    A ban enforced with the security checks presumably already in place would require far less time and personnel, not to mention less cash.

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  2. Greg says:

    That may work at the first match, but as word got around, you would have more and more people bringing in horns in the hopes of getting a payout. It would probably increase the problem, rather than solve it. Unless you had an unlimited amount of money to hand out.

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  3. Bryan Hartman says:

    Wouldn’t the last few vuvuzelas (or the ones closest to the microphones) get really expensive in this reverse auction?

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  4. AaronS says:


    Why not just broadcast from within a soundproof studio? They can make all the commentary, we can see all the action, but instead of us hearing those horns, perhaps some appropriate “canned” crowd noise–or even music–can be piped in.

    Seems reasonable to me.

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  5. James says:

    So they can turn around and buy 2 new horns with their money?

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  6. Gabriel Villasmil says:

    Looks to me as if the organizing committee has some sort of pride attached to those horns. Maybe a predictably irrational behavior!

    As for quieting them down I see only one option, delay the game by a couple of minutes enough to run filtering algorithms that would remove the noise made by these.

    Another option is to not have the actual sound feed from the game, but rather impose an artificial sound feed. Maybe they can play Mozart during the game to make it more appealing!

    In my case I am watching the games in Univision, which typically hosts a very chatting group of commentators that hardly ever stop talking, so the noise is some what filtered by them. The simplest solution I see is have the ESPN guys talk more!

    In any case horns or no horns, I am truly enjoying the world cup!

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  7. John Phillips says:

    It is a repetitive noise. Easy to noise cancel it.

    In fact I just tested, and my noise canceling headphones kill it completely.

    Much cheaper, just run the audio through this kid of filter.

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