Fox Sports Featuring Virtual Fans For 2020 Broadcasts
General view of a Fox Sports camera and cameraman at Coors Field
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret the 2020 Major League Baseball season is an unusual one, as among the noticeable changes are fans not being in attendance due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It’s prompted teams to explore multiple ways to replicate a normal game environment.

Efforts by the Los Angeles Dodgers including offering fans an opportunity to purchase cardboard cutouts of themselves that are then placed in Dodger Stadium. It also includes a charitable component as net proceeds benefit the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation.

Additionally, the Dodgers are pumping in fake crowd noise as well as playing music during games to make it feel normal. It appears that Fox Sports is taking it one step further for their broadcasts this season.

According to Brian Steinberg of Variety, Fox will artificially place fans in stadium seats for games they carry:

The Fox Corporation-owned outlet intends to fill the seats of Wrigley Field, Dodger Stadium, Nationals Park and Petco Park with hundreds of virtual attendees, and will do the same at all the ballparks from which it broadcasts games over the next several weeks.

“We had a vision for making our Major League Baseball broadcasts look as natural as they were before COVID,” says Brad Zager, executive producer and executive vice president and head of production and operations for Fox Sports, in an interview. “A lot of that is having a crowd in the stadium.”

The idea of virtual fans is a new and unique one, and they will be able to react to plays like normal people would and potentially even start the wave:

Using digital technology, Fox Sports will fill seats with dozens of digital doppelgangers, all of whom can make movements that emulate what a crowd might look like from afar. The attendees can be tailored for each venue. Fox can change the colors of clothes, so a particular stadium might appear to be filled with home-team fans. Producers can have sections of the ersatz assemblage do a wave, says Zager, and can even remove crowd members if need be. “If it’s an 8-to-1 game, the crowd can be thinned out,” late in the game, he explains.

The concept is similar to what MLB has provided fans to do through their app by potentially influencing sights and sounds at stadiums.

The Dodgers will be part of the new technology on Saturday, with their 1:10 p.m. PT game with the Giants a Fox broadcast.

Dodgers to play Astros on Fox

The only other home game that the Dodgers are scheduled to play on Fox in 2020 will come on Saturday, Sept. 12, against the Houston Astros.

The Astros lucked out a bit with fans not being able to attend games this season as they would have been booed in every stadium they played in after it was revealed they cheated to win the 2017 World Series.

The Dodgers were hurt by the scandal the most as they were defeated by the Astros in seven games in the Fall Classic that year. Of course, Fox is unlikely to slant their broadcast too much toward a real setting in which the Astros would have boos rained on them at Dodger Stadium.

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