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Fox Sports to use 'virtual fans' technology for MLB broadcasts

Fans react in right field during the fifth

Fans react in right field during the fifth inning between the Yankees and the Houston Astros in Game 4 of the ALCS on Oct. 17, 2019, at Yankee Stadium. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Fox Sports plans to enhance its Major League Baseball telecasts this season with “virtual fans” who will be computer generated, the network announced on Thursday morning.

Using “Pixatope” software, the network said it will team with Silver Spoon Animation in creating the illusion of stadiums full of fans during a season in which there will be no fans in major league stadiums because of COVID-19 restrictions.

The idea is to create a better viewing experience as sports fandom morphs for the time being into an almost entirely television-based endeavor.

“We wanted to make it as normal as possible – this is what a Major League Baseball game should look and feel like,” Fox executive vice president Brad Zager told Sports Business Journal. “What we’re going for is normalcy and authenticity. We’re not trying to fool anybody.”

Fox plans to experiment with the technology, which can be adjusted to account for the mix of fans of each team in the virtual audience, how full the seats are and how fans react to various baseball situations.

Fox might also use the technology for NFL games this fall.

Baseball presents a particular challenge in the absence of fans, because the camera angles used for that sport – particularly the centerfield camera – tend to show more seats on a regular basis than is the case in football, basketball and hockey.

New York Sports