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Baseball: Fox to bring the noise with 'virtual fans' as sport adjusts to new normal

FILE PHOTO: A man talks on the phone outside of a shuttered Yankee Stadium during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in the Bronx borough of New York City, U.S., April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

(Reuters) - When the Major League Baseball season gets underway on Saturday, players will be met by an eerie silence from empty stands at ballparks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but fans at home can expect to see a boisterous full house on their television screens.

Fox Sports said on Thursday that “virtual fans” will pack the stands on its broadcast of the games in an attempt to recreate the traditional atmosphere at ballparks, with thousands of virtual avatars who cheer or boo at the push of a button.

Teams around the world have found creative ways to improve the viewers’ experience amid the pandemic, be it using cardboard cutouts, virtual screens or piping through artificial crowd noise through the broadcast feed.

Fox will take it up a notch, using software called Pixatope, with the assistance of Silver Spoon Animation, which specializes in motion capture. The broadcaster will also have the ability to create a virtual Mexican wave.

“Thousands of virtual fans will attend Fox’s MLB games on Saturday - wearing their team’s colors,” the network said in a video posted on Twitter. “Yes, they’ll even be doing the wave.”

Major League Baseball makes its return after having been forced to shut down in mid-March during spring training, with the New York Yankees visiting the World Series champion Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers hosting the San Francisco Giants on Thursday.

Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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