Thursday September 28, 2023

MLB Develops Virtual Ballpark In Latest Attempt to Increase Engagement

  • Test initiative draws from elements seen in the metaverse, virtual reality
  • League looks to recreate elements of in-ballpark attendance in digital realm
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MLB is taking another swing at trying to recreate in a digital setting the in-person fan connection common at a stadium.

The league during the July 8 All-Star Celebrity Softball Game in Seattle, Washington, will introduce the MLB Virtual Ballpark. The interactive digital social space — influenced in part by existing technologies such as the metaverse and virtual reality — will allow fans to build avatars, explore the simulated stadium, attend a digital watch party of the softball game, and participate in trivial games and a virtual scavenger hunt. 

Despite accelerating development across digital and social media, fully replicating in-person fan engagement digitally has remained a challenge for many sports properties. League officials said they were particularly enthused by the spatial audio component of this latest endeavor, which allows fans to hear various conversations and ambient sound as if they were physically present at a game. The volume of various sounds in Virtual Ballpark will depend on the relative location of each user’s avatar.

“When you hear the crowd roar, it’s not a canned thing. It’ll actually be the other people present,” said Kenny Gersh, MLB executive vice president of media and business development, to Front Office Sports. “More broadly, this takes the experience of being at a stadium and opens it up to a global audience in a way we haven’t been able to do before. Doing experiments like this is really important for us.”

The MLB Virtual Ballpark was developed with London-based metaverse technology company Improbable. Development costs were not disclosed, but the initial deployment at the All-Star Celebrity Softball Game was designed as a low-stakes test in advance of a potentially broader rollout.  

The All-Star Celebrity Softball Game, a fixture of MLB’s annual All-Star Weekend, will feature actors Joel McHale and Adam Devine, Olympic gold medalists Chloe Kim and Jennie Finch, NBA players Donovan Mitchell and Zach LaVine, and former MLB stars Félix Hernández and Ryan Howard, among many others.

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