MLB stadiums will be without fans this summer, but to TV viewers it will look like their teams are playing in crowded ballparks.
FOX Sports on Thursday revealed what its "virtual fans" will look like for nationally televised games during the virus-shortened, 60-game season.
A 19-second mockup video showed a near-capacity Chase Field in Arizona, home of the Diamondbacks, with the stands populated by pixelated spectators. Their movements appear to be fairly realistic, as fans mill about their seats and at one point appear to coordinate a wave down the left-field line.
The crowds were created using smart technology that attempts to simulate crowd behavior, according to John Ourand of Sports Business Journal. That means the "fans" will react differently to a two-out single with no runners on base than they will with the bases loaded in the eighth inning, the article said. As well, crowds will thin out in the latter innings of blowout games, or remain in their seats until final out for nail-biters.
FOX will broadcast an MLB triple-header on Saturday, covering the Brewers-Cubs, Giants-Dodgers and Yankees-Nationals games, beginning at 1 p.m. ET.
Professional sports leagues have grappled with the prospect of fanless games throughout the pandemic, experimenting with everything from cardboard cutouts, robots, and now CGI. In the spring, FOX Sports play-by-play announcer Joe Buck revealed the network would likely deploy artificial fan noise for NFL games.
All MLB games will be played without fans for the 2020 campaign. The eerie new reality came front and center on Tuesday night at Fenway Park, where there were no fans to sing along with Neil Diamond's classic "Sweet Caroline" after the top of the eighth inning.
Athletes expressed mixed opinions about playing without fans in the early days of the public health crisis, but fewer concerns were raised as the prospect appeared increasingly likely.
In the NFL, the Giants and Jets have ruled out hosting fans at MetLife Stadium until further notice, in accordance with protocols recently announced by Gov. Phil Murphy. The Los Angeles Rams and Las Vegas Raiders were said to be considering similar measures, though several teams have also rolled out plans for hosting limited numbers of fans.
The shortened MLB season was scheduled to begin Thursday with two games -- Yankees-Nationals and Giants-Dodgers -- before a full slate on Friday.