MLB fans aren't in love with Fox Sports' virtual fan experiment

Mark Townsend
·Yahoo Sports Contributor
·4 min read

Another innovation unique to the 2020 baseball season was formally unveiled during FOX’s broadcast of the Milwaukee Brewers-Chicago Cubs game on Saturday.

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Behold, the virtual fan.

That’s right, with no actual fans in the stands, Fox Sports is utilizing cutting-edge Pixatope software to create customizable virtual fans that will populate the stands during broadcasts. The virtual fans will even have the ability to react audibly with cheers or boos depending on what’s happening in the game.

To this point, we’ve only seen broadcasts from empty stadiums or stadiums partially filled with cardboard cutouts. In most ballparks, there has also been piped-in crowd noise. FOX executives hope the visual of virtual fans in the stands will enhance the viewing experience by bringing a greater “sense of normalcy” to the game for at-home viewers.

How are fans reacting?

So far at least, it appears home viewers aren’t in love with the visual. While some people are cool with it, others would prefer the uniqueness of the circumstances over computer-generated effects.

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What’s the most common complaint?

Oddly enough, the most common complaint from disapproving fans is how infrequently the virtual fans actually appear.

In most camera shots, the stands remain empty. It’s only the wide camera angles that show a “full” stadium. It seems the thumbs down crowd would have a higher opinion if the virtual fans were always visible.

Will real fans warm up to virtual fans?

It’s possible. We’ve already seen fans become more accepting of cardboard cutouts after initially being unsure. This will probably take more time. It might even require some adjustments on the technology side. Regardless, fans should get used to it, because it’s not going away anytime soon.

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