MLB to Debut Virtual Ballpark During All-Star Break
Major League Baseball is continuing its push to bring in more fans through upgraded and updated technologies by introducing a new virtual ballpark. The park will be available to fans for Saturday’s All-Star Celebrity Softball Game, the first of many planned events this year.
Influenced by existing technologies used in the metaverse and virtual reality, which MLB has been engaged with through its Home Run Derby VR, the virtual ballpark will allow baseball fans to create avatars, enter the park and explore it, and interact with other fans in attendance. During the All-Star Celebrity Softball Game, there will also be a number of mini-games available for fans, including a scavenger hunt, trivia games, and ticket giveaways to the 2023 World Series.
The online space is built to host up to 15,000 users at a time, and as the game is being played on the field in Seattle, fans in attendance at the virtual venue will be able to watch on a giant video screen. They will also hear the real-time reactions of the crowd, which is said to create an environment just like inside the stadium.
“It’s not like the manufactured crowd noise of a video game. It’s actually the other people that are in the environment with you reacting the way they would react. So that’s what I’ve been really impressed with,” said Kenny Gersh, MLB EVP of media and business development.
Fans in attendance will be given a digital ticket to commemorate the experience, and Gersh plans to make it a keepsake. “Like 10 years from now, my goal is that this will be that seminal event that people will be like, ‘I was there, here’s my ticket stub, I was one of the first.”
Featured at the All-Star Celebrity Softball Game are actors Joel McHale, Adam Devine, and Skylar Astin, Olympians Chloe Kim, Jennie Finch, and Natasha Watley, and 20-year-old social media star JoJo Siwa.
Changing the Way We Watch Sports
Major League Baseball’s in-person attendance is up nearly 8% this season. But the changing face of regional sports cable channels and new online streaming options means that baseball and sports media as we know it may be a thing of the past. Baseball is hoping to get ahead of that change by continuing to bring in the at-home viewer through innovations like its virtual ballpark.
The Atlanta Braves are building their own virtual venue, and MLB plans to make its virtual venue customizable in the future, so Red Sox fans can add a Green Monster, Cubs fans can put ivy on the outfield walls, and Royals fans can add fountains.
Baseball is also working on a 3D version of its current Gameday play-by-play, with sights set on that one day allowing fans to watch a game from anywhere in the ballpark, including on the field. Watch it as the home plate umpire, the centerfielder, or the third base coach.
“We’re at a point in time in technology where you can see the future coming a little bit,” Gersh said. “Being able to bring people together to an experience and event in this type of virtual setting — where you feel like you’re connected and you feel like we’re together — I think is really important, as we look to evolve the way that we deliver the game of baseball to our fans.”
New technologies have led to better and faster in-game betting on baseball, with a new wave of fans that watch baseball almost exclusively through their mobile sportsbook. In 2018, MLB first introduced its Home Run Derby VR at the All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. Now it’s available everywhere, and it features all 30 ballparks and pits fans from around the world against one another.
MLB’s virtual ballpark is just part of the overall evolution of sports and entertainment, and with the excitement that surrounds Apple’s new Vision Pro headset, that evolution seems to be accelerating.