Voice of football, Jeff Shreve, adjusts to fan restrictions

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

UNIONTOWN  For two decades, Uniontown resident Jeff Shreve has been one of the voices of football in Northeast Ohio. The GlenOak alumnus has served as the in-stadium public address announcer for the Cleveland Browns since 2006 and in a similar capacity for University of Akron football since 2006.

Uniontown resident Jeff Shreve (right) is the public announcer for the Cleveland Browns.

His job is to serve as the voice for announcements throughout the stadium, making him familiar to tens of thousands of fans who have never seen his face. Well, except for this season. In 2020, as the Browns have gotten off to an 8-3 start and the Zips have battled to get back on the field in a heavily disrupted college football season, Shreve's booming voice carries out to ... almost no one.

"Akron has not allowed any fans in for games and the Browns have a cap of about 12,000 fans, which is a really small percentage of the 70,000 they normally have in the building," Shreve said.

For its first home game, Akron allowed only a handful of family members to be in the stands and as per a Summit County stay-at-home order currently in effect, no fans were permitted for the Zips' most recent home game. The Browns, who are 9-3 for the first time since 1994, have had limited fans at games and with First Energy Stadium at less than 20 percent of its normal capacity, a venue that is loud, raucous and filled with energy has seen that energy muted a bit.

For public address announcers, who often inject excitement into a contest by loudly proclaiming the results of a touchdown or key turnover, having fewer - or no - fans in the stands makes the job a bit tougher.

"It's been unique ... it really impacts you at the start of the game because usually there's a lot of energy, or end of a game if it's a close game," Shreve said. "During the game, my job forces me to focus more on what's going on in the game, but there are announcements in game where Akron has dialed back and geared them more to not say things like, 'Hey fans,' or, 'Ladies and gentlemen,' since there's not anyone in the stands. The Browns really haven't done that as much, so the 12,000 fans who get in, they get the same show that 70,000 fans would get."

The exceptions, Shreve noted, are the in-game contests and promotions both in the stands and on the field. This season, the only people allowed on the field during the game are essential game personnel such as players, coaches, officials and workers.

Additionally, fans in the stands are spaced out to allow for as much distancing as possible. While his perch at Infocision Stadium for Akron games puts him on the seventh floor of the stadium, Shreve's seat at Browns games is much closer to fans. In fact, he's close enough for a few fans to talk to him during games in a normal year.

At the most recent Browns home game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 22, he counted just two fans in that same section.

Going from 70,000 fans to 12,000 also changes the dynamic of Shreve's job in terms of volume and tone.

"Now, being in a situation where you're the only one talking loudly, you're more aware that you're yelling," Shreve said. "Usually you can't hear yourself and you have to yell. Now, you have to talk yourself into yelling."

At Akron games, Shreve is usually seated in a booth in the press box with other workers running the scoreboard and play clock. This season, he and his spotter have been moved to another booth that is vacant due to reduced personnel thanks to the pandemic. His First Energy Stadium post features plexiglass separators between each seat and aside from him, everyone else wears a mask while Shreve's job requires him to be without one while at the microphone since he's constantly speaking.

That all of these changes have occurred in the best start to a Browns season since the team's return in 1999 is a twist of sad irony for a franchise that has dealt with its share of heartbreak.

"We've waited so long to be 9-3 and we look around and talk about what a tough break it is that we can't fill this building (due to attendance restrictions) because you know it would be crazy in there now if we could," Shreve said. "Some people do reach out and they say they can hear me more in the background on televised games. It is great that it's falling in place for the Browns and hopefully we can see that continue beyond this season when fans can be more a part of it in the stadium."

As the NFL season enters its home stretch and college football season does the same, Shreve is also readying for his gig as the announcer for Akron men's basketball games this winter. The program is currently paused due to COVID-related issues, but would not be able to have any fans at games until at least mid-December once it resumes. As a sport that is fueled by crowd energy and noise as much as any other, he's curious how he, the players and everyone else will adapt to the new reality of a suddenly much more low-key James A. Rhodes Arena.

It's a new, quieter reality for all involved, even those whose job is to turn up the volume on the game.