Fox To Use Virtual Fans And Fake Crowd Noise During NFL Games Without Fans

Play-by-play announcer Joe Buck says “It’s pretty much a done deal.”

View of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams on December 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
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If the NFL must at least begin its upcoming season in empty venues due to coronavirus-related safety concerns, Fox has a plan for that: Digitally-rendered audiences and crowd noise.

Or if you want to acknowledge how weird that could be, imagine watching a game on TV in which the stadium is populated with ghost fans. Sports Business Journal reporter John Ourand caught the news while listening to sportscaster Joe Buck on Sirius XM’s Andy Cohen Live.

Listen to Buck speaking with Cohen in the video below.

As you can hear, Cohen was just as surprised by this development as anyone. As news spread on social media it became clear that the concept freaked people out. Here are just two examples that characterize the overall response.

On Thursday, Buck tried to stem the tide of criticism and clarify his statements in a series of tweets.

Referencing a Sports Illustrated report Buck said it “doesn’t match what I said.”

“I’ve been saying for over a month, including on HBO in April, that some ambient crowd noise under a broadcast is a simple, necessary tool to normalize the viewing experience at home,” he continued.

In his next tweets, Buck defended the idea then summarized the gist of what he intended to get across: “I said FOX is WORKING on virtual fans. They are working everyday on ANYTHING to make our shows the best on TV. That’s exciting to me, and I am thankful.”

“It could be a very exciting time in network TV coverage,” Buck said in his concluding tweet, “I can’t wait to see how it all plays out. Praying for a SAFE return to a stadium near you for all involved.”

Buck’s point is easy to understand—it’s a ‘damn, whatever works, let’s do it’ kind of attitude. 

For now, the nature of NFL gameplay and just about everything else people do outside the home is up in the air. We’ll have some idea of where Fox really goes with making broadcasts work when the season begins in September 2020.