Joe Buck: Fox planning to pump in crowd noise, digitize fans for NFL broadcasts

With talk of a return to sports ramping up, fans are wondering what games without fans will look like on TV.

Fox play-by-play announcer Joe Buck provided a glimpse on Wednesday.

Speaking with Sirius XM’s Andy Cohen, Buck said that plans are already in place for the network’s anticipated NFL broadcasts. Fox is planning to do its best to simulate a normal atmosphere by pumping in crowd noise and placing digital fans in the stands of empty NFL stadiums.

“It’s pretty much a done deal,” Buck said, per SBJ’s John Ourand. “I think whoever is going to be at that control is going to have to be really good at their job and be realistic with how a crowd would react depending on what just happened on the field.”

Buck has a point. That’s going to turn into a high-pressure gig only a yellow-line operator could appreciate.

Fox is not afraid to gamble

For better or for worse — mostly better — Fox has been on the cutting edge of broadcast enhancement since it got into the sports broadcast business in the 1990s. The Fox Box introduced in 1994 paved the way for the score bugs that have become ubiquitous in sports broadcasts.

Imagine watching a game without having constant access to the score and game clock. That was the standard for NFL broadcasts before 1994.

Do you want fake fans and crowd noise on your football broadcasts? (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth, File)
Do you want fake fans and crowd noise on your football broadcasts? (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth, File)

Fox also introduced the widely mocked glowing pucks for NHL broadcasts in the 1990s, with the intention of making the puck easier to follow for casual fans. That idea failed, but it’s tough to knock the network for innovating.

Assuming the season starts, empty stadiums will provide an entirely new challenge for networks this fall. Whether fans at home will be receptive to fake counterparts in the stands on their broadcasts is yet to be seen.

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