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MLB used fleet of iPads to create fake crowd sounds during COVID-19

Credit: MLB

When Major League Baseball needed to solve the problem of silent stadiums during the COVID-19 pandemic, the league looked to the iPad.

To provide simulated crowd noises during the 2020 season, MLB used 30 iPads — one for each team — that were loaded with crowd reactions. But, as Sports Illustrated points out, getting the sound right is harder than it seems.

"You're a conductor of sorts. You're controlling a symphony," said Amelia Schimmel, Oakland A's ballpark entertainment executive producer.

While normal-sounding crowd noise is difficult to simulate, it's also crucial to keep players from performing in dead silence, and to keep the games familiar for fans watching at home.

According to SI, the dozens of sound noises loaded onto each iPad were originally made for PlayStation game "MLB: The Show." Each noise has three sound levels, and layering can create different effects. All a so-called "conductor" needs to do is scroll and tap to trigger specific reactions.

During the coronavirus health crisis, stadium crews needed to constantly adjust the background noise and reactions to plays. The senior director of productions for the Seattle Mariners, Ben Martens, gave one specific example to SI.

"There's that initial reaction of the ball hitting the bat," Martens said of a Mariners player making hard contact. But it isn't a full cheer yet, because the crowd wouldn't know how it would play out.

Different production teams prepared in different ways. The Milwaukee Brewers, for example, watched a few 2019 games with the crowd noises isolated to get a better sense of how fans reacted to actual plays and situations. The goal wasn't to conduct crowd noises that sounded ideal, it was to "make it sound real," said Schimmel.

Teams also had the opportunity to add their own custom sounds into the mix. The Oakland A's, for example, added a recording of super-fan The Banjo Man.

This isn't the first time that MLB has used iPads for a variety of tasks. The league first kicked off an iPad dugout program in 2016, before expanding it in 2020. Prior to 2015, iPads were actually banned in dugouts.