Fox taking fans to the ballgame with a virtual crowd

This image provided by Fox Sports shows a screen shot from video showing a test of the virtual crowds at Chase Field in Phoenix, in early July 2020. Fox Sports has revealed that it will include computer-generated fans beginning with their three Major League Baseball games on Saturday, July 25. (Fox Sports via AP) (Fox Sports)

LOS ANGELES – Fox will be taking viewers out to the ballgame by adding a virtual crowd in parks during its baseball broadcasts this season.

The network revealed Thursday that it will include computer-generated fans in the stands beginning with the three games on Saturday. Fox begins its coverage with Milwaukee at the Chicago Cubs, followed by San Francisco at the Los Angeles Dodgers, and concluding with the New York Yankees at Washington.

Given that fan opinions about crowd noise being added to baseball games has been mixed, Fox may draw some jeers for adding virtual fans. But Fox Sports Vice President Brad Zager, who oversees live event productions and operations, is hoping people give it a chance.

“We believe that what we’re doing is creating a natural viewing experience,” Zager said. "Sports is supposed to be an escape and when people have that escape we want it to feel as normal as possible when there’s very little normalcy, like a crowd at a baseball game on a Saturday.

"We're not looking to fool everyone. We know it is a virtual crowd. But we also know how jarring watching a game in an empty stadium is on TV."

Fox has been working on a solution to no crowds since late March, when most realized crowds were not going to be allowed to return to stadiums and arenas because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Fox Sports CEO and executive producer Eric Shanks said the early versions of the virtual crowds looked rudimentary and resembled “a better version of Donkey Kong” but have improved exponentially since then.

“We knew quickly that we were going to have to look at crowd and audio in a different way. The only thing we didn't know was the date when we were going to have to be ready to go,” Zager said.