Soccer fans ruthlessly roasted the fake crowd using during the broadcast of the Coppa Italia final

As sports return without fans, some networks are getting creative to replicate the live crowd experience — sometimes, too creative.ESPN
  • The Coppa Italia final took place with no fans in the stands on Wednesday.
  • To make up for the lack of a live crowd, the broadcast rendered CGI fans into the arena, waving flags and changing colors throughout the match.
  • While the feature was impressive at first, it quickly proved distracting once the action began on the field, prompting some fans to criticize the broadcast on social media.
  • Networks and teams are still experimenting with how to best recreate the feel of a big match without a crowd to enhance the experience. Clearly, they still have some work left to do.

As sports return to action after months of suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, broadcasters have been facing an interesting problem — how to best deal with empty arenas.

During Wednesday's Coppa Italia final, broadcasters debuted another new feature — a crowd filled with CGI fans. Rather than show thousands of empty seats, the broadcast of the match instead inserted CGI graphics that offered the vague shape and movement of a soccer crowd with a fairly hazy definition.

At the start of the broadcast, it was a pretty cool effect — if you squinted, the crowd could certainly look close to the real thing. But as the match began and the crowd still featured prominently, it quickly proved a distraction. On Twitter, fans roasted the CGI fans, comparing them to the poor graphics of an old video game.Advertisement

Fans also noted that it seemed odd that the broadcast chose to go through the trouble of putting a fake crowd in place without bothering to pump in crowd noise as well.

With fans still prohibited from entering arenas due to social distancing guidelines, soccer, golf, UFC, and more sports have been left to figure out different ways of dealing with the newly empty visual field and soundscape that are normally an integral part of the sports-watching experience.

Some groups have gotten creative with how to handle the problem. Fox Sports began pumping fake crowd noise into its Bundesliga broadcasts — an experiment that fans were at first skeptical of but quickly proved to be a resounding success. Other efforts have been more drastic, such as one Danish team's effort to bring fans into their home arena via a giant Zoom call and a video board that spanned the length of the pitch.
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While the fake crowd experiment in Italy might not have gone as well as initially planned, the fact that broadcasts are trying more things is encouraging. With the return of the Premier League, Manchester City followed the lead of their Danish counterparts and had fans join the game via Zoom on the sidelines.

As more sports return to action in the coming weeks, we can expect more experimentation from networks hoping to fine-tune their broadcasts. Hopefully, they'll be a bit less intrusive than the CGI fans were on Wednesday.
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