FOX will use virtual fans for NFL games; other networks won’t

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The virtual reality in which we now reside will result in virtual fans being used only for limited NFL games.

According to John Ourand of Sports Business Journal, FOX and only FOX will use virtual fans during the 2020 season. In Week One, FOX will use virtual fans for only one game: Bears and Lions. The network hopes to use the technology more extensively as the season unfolds.

“We didn’t get a pre-season game on the NFL to do everything that we wanted to do and really look at it,” FOX Sports Executive Producer Brad Zager told Ourand. “Before we rolled it out everywhere, we wanted to have a game that we could focus on, and we’ll see what happens from there.”

Ourand reports that NBC has decided against virtual fans for Sunday Night Football, because it would be too expensive and too difficult to have virtual fans for 25 camera angles. As a result, some shots would have had virtual fans, and some shots wouldn’t have had virtual fans.

“This is not a shot at FOX because I think what they’ve done is tremendous, but it’s just not realistic,” Sunday Night Football executive producer Fred Gaudelli told Ourand. “It just didn’t feel right to me.”

CBS and ESPN separately told Ourand that they would not use virtual fans for NFL games.

Viewer reaction will go a long way toward determining whether FOX expands the use of virtual fans or whether other networks revisit their positions on it. Chances are those viewer reactions will be springing up on Twitter throughout the afternoon on Sunday, during the game between Detroit and Chicago.