Many MLB teams will be pumping fake crowd noise into their ballparks during this shortened, fan-free season, but Fox Sports wasn’t satisfied with that. Starting on Saturday, and for all of their MLB broadcasts this season, they’re inserting fake fans into those empty ballpark seats.
Fox Sports released a video on Thursday to announce their virtual fans innovation. If you’re someone who thinks virtual people are creepy, you might want to look away.
No fans? Not on FOX Sports.— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) July 23, 2020
Thousands of virtual fans will attend FOX’s MLB games this Saturday. pic.twitter.com/z9oQU0rYuC
Fake fans with real responses
These virtual fans won’t be basic featureless renders. They’ve got men, women, and kids who will all be wearing their team’s colors and dressed in weather appropriate clothes. The fans will even respond to the on-field action, booing and cheering at the right times, as well as doing the wave (presumably when the on-field action is boring).
Fox Sports executive vice president Brad Zager told the New York Post that the point is to make these fan-free MLB broadcasts seem as normal as possible, but they’re not trying to trick anyone into thinking there are real fans in the stands.
“It is not like we are trying to make people feel like there is a crowd there,” Zager said. “We are trying to make them feel that in the normal pitch-by-pitch, shot-by-shot baseball it is what they are used to. We aren’t trying to fool anyone.”
Virtual crowds have limitations
While Fox isn’t planning on displaying a graphic to indicate that the crowd is fake, it’s hard to imagine anyone would be fooled into thinking these virtual zombie fans are real. The crowd looks like a video game blur from a distance, and Fox doesn’t have the technology to allow any of these fake fans to catch a home run ball or do team-specific chants.
Fox Sports does have a way to make this experience seem a little more authentic: they have the ability to decide the attendance at each ballpark, including what percentage of the crowd will be wearing the visiting team’s colors. It’s not clear if they’ll be using a team’s average 2019 attendance to decide how full a ballpark will be, but they should. A surefire way to shatter the illusion is for Marlins Park or Tropicana Field to appear more than 20 or 30 percent full.
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