Virtual fans coming to Fox’s baseball coverage

Fox Sports will add “virtual fans” to its MLB coverage.

With most pro sports banning or limiting spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic, broadcasters have been adapting to covering events with empty stands and chairs.

Some are simply keeping cameras focused on the gameplay as much as possible, while others have turned to adding virtual sound effects of crowds cheering. Other changes include eliminating or modifying how teams sit when not actively playing and moving courtside commentators

Starting with its season kickoff July 25, 2020, Fox will begin leveraging software from Pixotope with the imagery of the virtual crowds created by Silver Spoon Animation and SMT, according to an announcement on its website.

The virtual fans will move just like a real crowd (since no one sits perfectly still in their seat) — and the network’s demo of the technology also featured a virtual “wave” effect. 

In addition, Fox can customize the crowds for each game.

For example, fans can be clad mostly in team colors and the software can also be set to “thin out” for an 8-1 game, reports Variety, recreating the phenomenon when fans begin leaving stadiums when a game is all but a forgone conclusion.

To keep the crowds realistic, the demo also shows a scattering of other colors on the virtual fans’ clothing.

In addition, the crowds can be “anchored” to their chairs, allowing for camera moves and zooms just like during normal game coverage.

Sports broadcasts have already embraced augmented reality technology in a variety of applications — ranging from inserting player stats and imagery over the playing surface to virtual advertising placed on walls, floors and other surfaces.