When Major League Baseball kicks off its abridged season this month, its fan base is going to look dramatically different and they won't be nearly as loud.
That's because teams like the Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants and a handful of others will be filling their stands with cardboard cutouts of fans. The trend, which we first saw in European soccer leagues, has now made its way to the United States.
When MLB returns after a lost spring due to coronavirus, fans will not be permitted in the stands. That has forced teams to look for creative solutions to recoup in-stadium revenue and create fan engagement.
The A's announced the start of the "Coliseum Cutouts" program on Monday, which allows fans to put their image on an 18 x 30 cardboard cutout and for the chance to see their cutout appear on television. In 24 hours, the A's said they have already sold 1,000 "season tickets" for the cardboard cutouts.
"Response has been extremely strong," Oakland A's president Dave Kaval told CNBC in an interview. "People are especially interested in the foul ball dunk, where if your cutout gets hit, we send you the authenticated ball to your house."
The price of cutouts varies by team, but in Oakland, prices start at $49 and go up to $129, depending on location in the stands.
The fine print says that commercial advertisements, slogans, websites and social media handles will not be permitted on the cutouts. Offensive or negative references and names of MLB players are also prohibited.
The A's said the cutouts will remain in the ballpark for the 2020 regular season and fans will have the option to take home their cutout as a souvenir when the season ends. The A's do not guarantee the condition of cutouts from weather and other elements.
Kaval said that there's also a visual component to having cardboard fans at the ballpark.
"It has a better feel for the broadcast experience versus seeing empty stands, so I think you will see more and more teams adopt something like this, not only for the fan engagement but for the broadcast experience," he said.
The San Francisco Giants are running a similar cardboard cutout program for season ticket holders, which they plan to open to the public beginning on Monday. The Giants plan to put the images of the season ticket holders in their actual seat locations.
The Oakland Athletics said their Coliseum Cutout program is not designed to make money for the organization, but to raise money for local charities that have been impacted by Covid-19.
The San Francisco Giants said it's less about the money and more of a fun way to engage with its fans.
The Giants are charging $99 for their program and are providing the cutouts to season ticket holders that have agreed to roll their money to next season.
Yet in Germany, Bundesliga's Borussia Monchengladbach sold 23,000 cutouts, according to Be At the Game, the company behind the program. With an average price of $26, that's about $600,000 in revenue.
然而在德國，據運營紙板人項目的公司Be At the Game介紹，德國足球甲級聯賽的普魯士明興格拉德巴赫隊賣出了2.3萬個紙板人。每個紙板人的均價是26美元，總收入約60萬美元。
Tom Hickson, co-founder of Be At the Game, said his company has been in discussions with the NBA, NHL and MLS teams about utilizing this new type of fan.
Be At the Game公司的聯合創始人湯姆·西克森表示，他們的公司一直在和美國男子籃球職業聯賽、北美職業冰球聯賽和美國職業足球大聯盟的球隊就使用這種新型“粉絲”進行洽談。
"As sports fans, we're all obviously aggrieved about the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has prevented fans from entering into sports stadiums and arenas across the world,” Hickson said. "So it's a way in which fans can be re-engaged."