One of the first major shockwaves that COVID-19 sent through America came on March 11, when the NBA suspended the remainder of its season. The next day, nearly every other U.S. sports league suspended operations indefinitely, and months later are still formulating plans to return.
One major hangup for the comeback of sports is that fans will likely not be allowed in arenas. Social distancing is nearly impossible in a crowded stadium, and bringing tens of thousands of people together in a contained environment will contribute to the spread of the virus.
Leagues in the U.S. and abroad are searching for solutions. Empty seats and quiet arenas are not only unusual to players but can also be offputting to TV viewers. Some leagues have considered pumping in crowd noise and CGI fans, for instance. Others are considering a more old-fashioned fix: cardboard cutouts.
Cardboard Cutouts At Sporting Events
The Bundesliga, a German soccer league, was one of the first major professional leagues to resume play amid the pandemic, albeit with empty stadiums. According to the league, “One pre-requisite of the return was the playing of matches behind closed doors, with no more than 213 people in a stadium, players or staff.”
But fans improvised. Supporters of Borussia Mönchengladbach (known as Gladbach) launched a campaign called “Stay at home. Be in the stands” and thousands of fans ordered cardboard cutouts of themselves to fill the stadium.
The home stands are filling up nicely though! Over 4,500 cut-outs in place and 12,000+ ordered 😍
The website is now live in English too to give our international fans a chance to order their cut-out for €19.00 via bank transfer! 🐎💚
— Gladbach (@borussia_en) May 6, 2020
Campaign organizers charged $21.50 for a cutout, with any proceeds going to charity. They partnered with a U.K.-based company, Be At The Game, to make the cutouts. All in all, more than 20,000 orders were placed for cardboard fans to fill Gladbach’s stadium.
The idea spread quickly as sports opened up, including into the Turkish soccer league and the Korean Baseball Organization. Not only can fans support their teams, but they can also support their communities and stop the spread of COVID-19. Of course, not everyone was impressed with the results. The NY Post complained that the look of the cutouts was strange, for instance, but the idea has gotten widespread support.
Cardboard Fans in the U.S.
As American sports leagues plan to restart, cutout fans could be in our future too. My Fan Seats is one new company looking to take over the cardboard space. Currently, the company is securing partnerships with teams and allowing fans to place requests. Once My Fan Seats lands a deal with a team you support, you can formally order a cardboard cutout to fill a seat.
If you’re concerned about safety but still want to support your favorite teams, ordering a cutout version of yourself is a pretty neat solution. Some European fans even used the cardboard campaign to honor loved ones, including one English soccer fan who had a photo of his late father made into a cardboard fan.
Cardboard fans may be a fun, quirky trend, but they could be here for the foreseeable future. Nobody knows for sure when fans will be allowed back at sporting events, or when sports will even return in the U.S. If this idea can help move along the transition, and bring in money for charities, it could certainly gain traction here.