Fox will be taking viewers out to the ballgame by adding a virtual crowd in parks during its baseball broadcasts this season. The network revealed Thursday that it will include computer-generated fans in the stands beginning with the three games on Saturday, the AP reports. Fox has been working on a solution to no crowds since late March, when most realized crowds were not going to be allowed to return to stadiums and arenas because of the coronavirus pandemic. Given that fan opinions about crowd noise being added to games has been mixed, Fox may draw some jeers. But Fox Sports Vice President Brad Zager is hoping people give it a chance. “We believe that what we’re doing is creating a natural viewing experience,” Zager said, adding: "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."
Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks said the early versions of virtual crowds looked rudimentary and resembled "a better version of Donkey Kong" but have improved exponentially. Fox's system is definitely an improvement over the virtual crowds Spain's top soccer league used. The fans on those broadcasts appeared as if they were imposed on a blank background. The Fox version has fans who look lifelike and three-dimensional. Fox worked on the project with Silver Spoon, a real-time animation and virtual production studio. Silver Spoon scanned in all the ballparks and fans so their motions sitting and standing could be properly rendered. The fans can do up to 500 actions, including high fives and the wave. The system can control the percentage of fans in the stadium as well as whom they are cheering for. For example, Saturday's Brewers-Cubs game could create a crowd that is 75% Cubs and 25% Brewers. It can also make it appear as if most of them have left if it is a 9-1 ballgame in the ninth inning.