Major League Baseball is back after a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, with two games that were played on Thursday, followed by a full slate on Friday, though the fans won’t be there.

According to Fox Sports, the network will add computer-generated fans in the stands, starting with their three games on Saturday. Fox will begin its coverage with the Milwaukee Brewers at the Chicago Cubs, followed by the San Francisco Giants at the Los Angeles Dodgers and concluding with the New York Yankees at the Washington Nationals.

The league first announced that it would be using crowd noise from Sony’s MLB video game, and now Fox Sports has proclaimed that it will be using virtual crowds in broadcasts. The network teamed up with Silver Spoon Animation to create a fake audience.

Fox believes that the technology it will use is definitely an improvement over the virtual crowd that La Liga used. The fans in the Spanish league appeared as if they were imposed on a blank background, whereas the Fox version will feature fans who appear more lifelike and three-dimensional.

Virtual Crowd

Fox will be using Pixatope software, and the technology will allow us to see the virtual crowd in wide shots, closeups of players, fans reaching out for home runs, and even a kiss cam. All the ballparks and fans were scanned so that their motions sitting and standing could be properly portrayed.

The level of detail will even allow the company to control what the fans are wearing and how they react to certain plays and situations. The fans will boo, cheer, and even do the wave. Also, fans may leave the stadium if it looks like the home team is going to lose in a blowout.

According to Fox Sports executive Brad Zager, the reason for the virtual crowd is to make the empty stadium in MLB broadcasts look as normal as possible.

“It is not like we are trying to make people feel like there is a crowd there. We are trying to make them feel that in the normal pitch-by-pitch, shot-by-shot baseball, it is what they are used to. We aren’t trying to fool anyone,” he said.

Fans In Other Sports

South Korean baseball returned in May with fake fans in the stands. One of the teams, SK Wyverns, imitates a home crowd in Incheon by covering the stadium seats with rows of horizontal banners that had faces of fans wearing masks and team hats.

The NC Dinos also filled the empty stadium with cardboard cutouts. The cutouts had fans with NC Dino jerseys and speech bubbles to make them more lively. Celebrities, babies, dogs and cats were also in the stands.

Like MLB, La Liga, the Spanish soccer league, used a fake crowd with fake noises for its live matches so that people did not feel the stadium’s emptiness. Broadcasts filled the stands with virtual fans that were blanketed in a static texture. The crowd only appeared from the main broadcast camera angle and disappeared when the camera angle changed.