Ah it’s that time of year again…
As summer beings to enter its final month, and the air starts to get a little cooler, America welcomes back it’s favorite (at least oldest) past time, minus one thing…
People in the seats.
Undoubtedly it was expected that there will be some changes to the way the game is experienced, for both players, fans, and the networks that broadcast them in order to safely comply with restrictions set in place for stopping the spread of COVID 19.
The biggest change?
No fans in the stadium. While this does not come as a surprise for many — considering the massive effects of the still ongoing pandemic, networks still wish to find a way to bring normalcy to an otherwise, completely not normal time.
Say Goodbye to Real Fans… Say Hello to Virtual Ones
During the shortened 2020 baseball Season, Fox News announced Thursday that they will be replacing the quiet, solem stadium with virtual CGI fans, complete with fake cheers, team merchandise and all.
This move is the latest in changes to the game to bring fans (and advertisers) closer to the traditional baseball season many have been anxiously awaiting.
No seventh-inning stretch needed for this crowd!
— FOX Sports PR (@FOXSportsPR) July 23, 2020
These “virtual fans” have been developed by Silver Spoon Animation and promise to bring as authentic as an experience to otherwise lifeless (and noiseless) live streamed games as possible.
According to the animation company, these fans will look, move and cheer like real people and can be customized for different game situations.
**TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME (sort of): FOX announces they will to use ‘virtual fans’ for MLB broadcasts during the coronavirus pandemic. They'll wear team colors and even do the wave… pic.twitter.com/e6M5wDH27Q
— Patrick Hussion (@PatrickHussion) July 23, 2020
For example, Brad Zager, executive producer of Fox News explains, “If it’s an 8–1 game, the crowd can be thinned out.”
The feedback so far on the proposed changes to the ways these networks try to bring back a cheerful atmosphere, has been… anything but cheerful.
The lack of distancing between these virtual fans worries me https://t.co/orMsPCaeL9
— Kyle Cuthbertson🏎 (@RacingNationTV) July 23, 2020
Hmm…going with – worst broadcasting idea since the monstrous glowing hockey puck…🙄
— Jason Jensen (@jjensmo) July 23, 2020
Yet, its hard to deny the effort that’s being put into trying to bring back excitement and ingenuity to the beloved game, when clearly the country is in need of some up lifting.
Some stadiums that have yet to introduce the fully CGI fans to their audiences have been trying a… different approach. As seen last night during the Met’s season opener, the stadium fills with not virtual fans, but cardboard ones.
Yep, as if it couldn’t get any creepier. It makes you wonder how this might affect the players mood or motiviation in-game.
Love the cardboard cutout fans at MLB games. Piped in fan sounds. Hilarious. pic.twitter.com/K9s3e6IBL6
— Randy Jondal (@RandyJondal) July 20, 2020
The (shorter) season is still young, however, so it will be interesting to see how players, fans, and the networks will adapt to the new wave of competitive sports that we suddenly find ourselves in.
And it’s not just baseball, the Miami Heat plans to introduce virtual fans on their screens to the games once players make their long awaited return to the hardwood.
The Miami Heat have integrated virtual videos of their fans on videoboards during home games.
— Front Office Sports (@frntofficesport) July 23, 2020
In any case, we’re eagerly awaiting the return of real fans and real atmosphere to these events, and how other major sports leagues and teams follow suit.
But in today’s world where doing so may imply some serious safety hazards, for now we will have to settle for the next best thing.