When baseball launches without fans in the stands, those watching games at home will still be able to cheer, boo or clap for their favorite teams virtually.
Major League Baseball is launching a feature on Opening Day that will allow fans to interact with their team's games on its website, Gameday app and through social media links. Scoreboard operators at ballparks will receive a live interface reflecting fan reaction, allowing the operator to adjust the type of artificial fan noise pumped to empty stadiums.
"We actually aren't supplying the boo sounds at all, so it solves a problem there," said Chris Marinak, executive vice president of strategy, technology and innovation for MLB. "We're only supplying the teams with background noise, different types of cheering and anticipation sounds, but there is no actual booing that we're providing. In the event that there is a lot of booing, it would just be ratcheted down to be very quiet."
With the fan-interactive features, those logged in will be able to see what percentage of those watching root for certain teams while seeing the three reactions icons pop up on screen, similar to the hearts on an Instagram Live video.
"You'll see if it's Red Sox-Yankees if it's 50/50, 90% Yankees fans," Marinak said. "There's a slide bar that will show you that on a relative basis. You'll also see in the background of that, you'll see the icons floating on the screen. You'll see that visually based on what's coming on the app."
The option to log into the cheering feature will pop up alongside the Gameday score graphic and pitch-charting visual. It also will be spotlighted on team websites and teams will share links on social media.
"It's not the same as sitting next to your best friends in the stands, but to create a sense of fan community and a sense of engagement and their favorite teams, it will help reinforce what will be a unique season," Marinak said.
Expect the online fan interactivity to evolve over the course of the season. Teams eventually will be able to stream their prerecorded, between-inning entertainment features -- such as mascot races, hat races or Beat the Freeze in Atlanta -- through the fan-interactive feature.
"One other thing we've been looking to do that won't be in there for the beginning of the season but hopefully soon after, would be the scoreboard operator to do polling or vote," Marinak said. "Maybe a team has three or four favorite songs or chants and they could push out a poll to a team that is actively logging into the feature. The next five minutes, vote for the song you want to hear or whatever. The winner would hear that played on the broadcast. We're looking at incremental things like that over the course of the season to create fans for additional ways to recreate the experience of a game."