Rather than let Major League teams play ball in front of empty stadiums on television, Fox says it will add virtual crowds, noise, and even a CGI "wave" to remind us just what a surreal year this year.
The MLB kicks off its shortened, crowd-free season tonight, with the Giants in Los Angeles playing the Dodgers, and the Yankees in D.C. playing the Nationals. And since execs at Fox Sports couldn't get their minds around broadcasting baseball games, night after night, with completely empty stands, they're going to try something new and completely bizarre: computer-generated crowds, and laugh-track-esque canned cheers.
As the Associated Press reports, Fox Sports is merely "testing" this concept out for now, and waiting to see how crowds react — but do we have any doubt that Twitter is going to have a field day with this fake crowd business? It's going to be a bunch of video game avatars wearing various team colors — and it's bound to be creepy.
"We believe that what we’re doing is creating a natural viewing experience,” says Fox Sports vice president of live productions 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," Zager adds. "We know it is a virtual crowd. But we also know how jarring watching a game in an empty stadium is on TV."
It seems like getting used to empty stands after a few games will be easier than getting used to a completely pre-programmed, CGI crowd. But maybe they figure that baseball is boring enough as it is, with a whole lot of silence between exciting moments, so the silence might get deafening without crowd sounds.
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
Fox worked with an animation studio called Silver Spoon to recreate crowds as they regularly appear in various ballparks, and the robo-fans will allegedly be able to do 500 different actions, including high-fiving each other when there's a big hit or home run.
It's not yet clear how networks besides Fox will handle the empty stadiums, but you'll get to weigh in on the CGI crowd experience this Saturday, when Fox airs the Brewers-Cubs game with 75 percent, computer-generated Cubs fans...