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Fox to use thousands of virtual fans in MLB broadcasts

Fox to use thousands of virtual fans in MLB broadcasts
MLB stadiums will have cardboard cutouts of fans and virtual supporters this season as many teams have banned fans from attending games due to the coronavirus pandemic. File Photo by Corey Sipkin/UPI | License Photo

July 23 (UPI) -- Fox will use thousands of virtual fans to fill stadiums on MLB broadcasts this season, with the network's first full slate of games planned for Saturday.

The network announced the plan on Thursday. Many MLB teams have ruled out fans at their stadiums for the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, but some teams have yet to ban them for the entire 60-game campaign.

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Fox on Thursday published a preview video for a crowd at the Arizona Diamondbacks' Chase Field in Phoenix. The video began with a wide camera shot of the empty stadium before the stands were filled with virtual fans in a split second. The fans wore team colors and cheered along with the action.

Fox Sports executive vice president Brad Zager told the New York Post that the network also is working with the NFL, which could use the same technology to fill empty stadiums with fake crowds.

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"The original concept sounds like something that would never even happen -- pie in the sky," Zager told the Post. "Pretty quick after this pandemic hit we thought we could be in a position to produce games without crowds.

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"We were dead set on trying to make the broadcast with no crowd feel as authentic and organic as possible. We want to give people an escape."

Fox has the ability to design fan ratios in the stadiums, with a certain percentage of fans in support of each respective team. Fans also can dress for weather conditions and perform synchronized cheers, like the wave.

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Fox will begin its baseball slate with the Milwaukee Brewers' clash against the Chicago Cubs at 1:05 p.m. EDT Saturday at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The network will then air the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers game before the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals square off in Saturday's nightcap clash.

Fox will use Pixatone software and work with Silver Spoon Animation and SMT to produce the crowds for the games. Silver Spoon, an animation and virtual production studio, scanned all ballparks and fans to create the graphics. SMT is a technology company that specializes in broadcast graphics.

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The 2020 MLB season begins with two games Thursday on ESPN. The World Series champion Nationals host the Yankees at 7:08 p.m. EDT at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. The Dodgers host the Giants at 10:08 p.m. EDT at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Baseball kicks off with preseason training

Kansas City Royals batter Alex Gordon connects for a sacrifice RBI during an exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on July 22. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

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