It’s not all about the (fan) noise! Hearing care experts from Oticon, Inc., a leading manufacturer of hearing devices, located just miles 40 miles from MetLife Stadium, report that a number of factors including the weather, the design of the stadium and beverage of choice can influence the way sounds are heard by fans and players on February 2. Oticon audiologists reviewed research and conducted their own sound testing – in sports bars and in the sound booth – and share fun facts and hearing health advice that may help sports fans make sound choices on game day.
The Cold Facts
Weather can affect how fast sound travels to fans in the stadium. If the weather is colder, there is a slight delay in sound reaching spectators. Average daily low temperature in early February for East Rutherford, the site of MetLife Stadium, is 22 degrees Fahrenheit. In an open stadium, wind can add to the chill factor. The good news is that even at below freezing temperatures, sound delay to fans in the least expensive seats when compared to fans on the sidelines will likely be no more than one-fourth of a second.
Noisy by Design
“Prolonged exposure to sounds louder than 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing damage,” said Dr. Annette Mazevski, Manager of Technology Assessment at Oticon. “Average volume during an NFL game is estimated to be in the mid 90-decibel range, about the intensity of power tools or a lawnmower.”
Stadium design contributes to loudness. In December, Seahawks’ open-air but heavily canopied CenturyLink Stadium clocked in at an astounding 137.6 decibels. “Think jackhammer or fireworks blast,” said Dr. Mazevski. In MetLife’s 910 X 740-foot open structure, sound doesn’t bounce the way it does in a closed-dome stadium. MetLife’s plastic and iron seating doesn’t reflect back noise the way CenturyLink’s aluminum seating does. However, with 217 glass-fronted luxury suites, four 30 x 188-foot video display boards, a 360-degree ribbon board and massive canopies near both end zones, MetLife Stadium contains plenty of sound-reflective surfaces.
When it comes to factors that increase noise levels, size matters and so does closeness to the field. As the second largest NFL stadium, MetLife has a seating capacity of 82,500 fans. The stadium’s closest fan seating, just 46 feet from the 50-yard sidelines, is the shortest distance of any NFL stadium.
Noise On and Off the Field
Football helmets are designed to protect players’ heads, not their hearing. Openings on either side of the helmet allow them to hear crowd noise and calls on the field. When Oticon audiologists measured sound levels with a regulation helmet, using KEMAR, an acoustic research mannequin, sound levels were virtually the same with and without the helmet. However, because the helmet covers the pinna, the soft outer portion of the ear that facilitates sound localization, it may take players a bit longer to identify where sound is coming from.
Fans be forewarned: A 1991 study found that noise can increase anxiety and aggressiveness and reduce the incidence of helping or considerate behavior. A UK study showed that crowd noise can also impact considerations on the field. The study found that crowd noise influenced referee calls in favor of the home team. It was suspected that noise caused greater uncertainty when determining calls, resulting in fewer penalties called against the home team.
The huddle, a staple of modern football strategy, actually has its roots in hearing history. Players from schools for the deaf used sign language to communicate plays on the field. Opposing teams were sometimes able to decipher the hand gestures. In 1894, a savvy Gallaudet University quarterback introduced the huddle as a way to conceal upcoming plays.
Raising the Bar on Noise
Although sports bars can be very loud places to watch the big game, fans may be less likely to find the noise bothersome because they are in a social setting, according to a University of Minnesota study. During NFL playoffs, a group of Oticon audiologists fanned out to popular sports bars in playoff cities to test noise levels. “We found that on average, bar noise was in the 70 decibel range, about the noise level of a vacuum cleaner,” said Dr. Mazevski. “During touchdowns, fan noise rose to nearly 110 decibels and ratcheted up even higher to 112.2 decibels - louder than a car horn - during big plays.”
Some researchers have shown that ingesting alcohol in moderation is a protective agent against hearing loss. Moderation is key. People who drink four or more alcoholic beverages per day have higher odds of having high frequency hearing loss.
Planning to play it safe on game day? Oticon audiologists recommend adding a pair of earplugs or protective earmuffs with a good noise reduction rating to your game day attire. Use both together for increased noise reduction. “A package containing several pairs of earplugs costs just a few dollars at your local drug or home store,” said Dr. Mazevski. “When noise gets to be too much, take a break. Head to the snack bar or take a walk around the stadium.”
A cap and warm muffler may protect against frostbite but are too porous to offer any protection from stadium noise.
“It’s not uncommon for your ears to ring for a short period after being in a noisy environment. But if the ringing doesn’t go away after three or more days, get checked out by a hearing care professional,” said Dr. Mazevski.
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