The Washington Nationals are facing off against the New York Yankees on Thursday night — in an empty stadium. Fox Sports is using computer animation to add “virtual fans” to the broadcast in an attempt to liven up the viewing experience.
Both teams are beginning the season with smaller rosters due to COVID-19. The Nationals’ Juan Soto is sitting out because he recently tested positive for coronavirus. Two of the Nationals’ players, Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross, are opting out of the 2020 season altogether. The Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman also tested positive for coronavirus and isn’t playing in the season opener.
The MLB season continues on Saturday with three back-to-back games on Fox. According to Bloomberg, Fox sold out its advertising inventory for Saturday’s games, bringing some eagerly awaited ad revenue to the network. Fox sold 90% of its ad inventory for the rest of the regular season. The network is hoping to capitalize on pent-up demand from sports fans to drive ad sales.
Other major sports leagues are returning in the coming months. The NBA’s regular season returns next week, and the NFL is slated to begin the 2020-21 season in September. NBA teams have been isolating within a bubble in Walt Disney World, where players who test positive for COVID-19 are required to self-isolate. The league announced this week that all players within the bubble had tested negative. By contrast, the NFL is not using a bubble to isolate its players, and plans to move ahead with the regular season’s travel schedule.