Fox Sports to add virtual crowds to MLB ballparks

Fox Sports to add virtual crowds to MLB ballparks

Fox Sports announced Thursday it will include computer-generated fans in otherwise empty stadiums for its telecasts this season, starting on Saturday. 

“We believe that what we’re doing is creating a natural viewing experience,” said Fox Sports Vice President Brad Zager. “Sports is supposed to be an escape and when people have that escape we want it to feel as normal as possible when there’s very little normalcy, like a crowd at a baseball game on a Saturday."

"We’re not looking to fool everyone. We know it is a virtual crowd. But we also know how jarring watching a game in an empty stadium is on TV," Zager added.  


The announcement comes as Major League Baseball opens its 60-game regular season on Thursday night with the New York Yankees visiting the Washington Nationals and the San Francisco Giants taking on the Dodgers in Los Angeles. 

NBC Sports has been incorporating crowd noise into its soccer telecasts of England's Premier League. Fox Sports 1 has done the same with its coverage of German soccer. Both leagues returned earlier this summer. 

Fox Sports has been tinkering with different looks and sounds for the crowd simulation since late March, when the season was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.


“We knew quickly that we were going to have to look at crowd and audio in a different way. The only thing we didn’t know was the date when we were going to have to be ready to go,” Zager explained. 

Silver Spoon, a real-time animation and virtual production studio, worked with Fox Sports on its presentation, according to The Associated Press. The company says it has scanned all MLB stadiums to properly render sitting and standing motions of fans in the stands. 

Fans can perform up to 500 actions, according to Silver Spoon, including doing the wave. The company can also adjust a stadium to reduce the size of the virtual crowd if the game is a blowout in the late innings. The technology can also adapt to cooler temperatures in the fall, adding jackets and hats on fans if needed. 

Other major professional sports leagues, including the NBA and NHL, are slated to return to play in empty venues on July 30 and Aug. 1, respectively.