Fox's NFL Telecasts Might Add Crowd Noises, Put 'Virtual' Fans in Stands

Thursday Night Football Ratings

Stadiums may be empty when/if football starts its season this fall, but some games probably won’t look or sound that way.

Fox is exploring ways to fill the empty National Football League venues with digitally-added fans and crowd noises, Fox Sports announcer Joe Buck said during an interview on Andy Cohen’s SiriusXM radio show.

“I think Fox and these networks have to put crowd noise under us to make it a normal viewing experience at home,” USA Today reports Buck said, adding that the audio component was “pretty much a done deal.”

He added: “I think whoever’s going to be at that control is going to have to be really good at their job and be realistic with how a crowd would react depending on what just happened on the field, so it’s really important.”

But having crowd noises without a crowd would be seriously weird, so Fox also is “looking at ways to put virtual fans in the stands, so when you see a wide shot, it looks like the stadium is jam-packed. And in fact, it’ll be empty” due to measures instituted to slow the spread of coronavirus, Buck said.

In addition to its Thursday Night Football match-ups (which start Oct. 8 ), FOX Sports’ NFL Sunday schedule includes at least 98 regular-season games. Fox Sports’ NFL slate is scheduled to kick off with a Tampa Bay Buccaneers/New Orleans Saints match-up on Sunday, Sept. 13. (Earlier this month, the NFL released its (optimistic) 256-game schedule, which kicks off in early September.)

A recent Sports Business Journal article examined why networks would want to fill the stands with pixels if they can’t do so with fans. “When you see events that don’t have fans, you really understand what is missing, said Jon Slusser, owner and partner of The Famous Group, a technology firm that deals with fan experiences.

Slusser said that his firm was in talks with nearly every major sports league and TV network: “It’s an incredible realization of how important fans and that energy are to live events, and what makes live events special and gives it the energy, gravity, importance and life.”