Sports fill empty stadiums with robots, mannequins


As the global coronavirus pandemic drags on, sporting events are being called off left and right: The NBA season, the Boston Marathon, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (which has been postponed to 2021) are just a few examples. Sports broadcaster ESPN has begun filling its airtime with athletic feats in sign spinning, cup stacking, and cherry-pit spitting.

And professional sports leagues around the world are getting creative with filling their stands, gracing us with legions of robot mannequin fans plastered with cut-outs of ticket-buyers’ faces, which will cheer on baseball players in Taiwan and soccer players in Belarus.

“Welcome to the future,” states the official website of Chinese Professional Baseball League.

According to a website that covers the Rakuten Monkeys—a CPBL team owned by Japanese online retail behemoth Rakuten—the team will kick off its season inside an empty stadium sprinkled with 500 “new fans.” The fans are mostly mannequins dressed in Rakuten jerseys with banners affixed to their forearms. According to the website, “a few of them will be robots.”

It did not say what the robots would do. Shout? Wave mechanically? Who knows.

“Since we are not allowed to have any fans in attendance [to comply with CDC guidelines], we might as well have some fun with it,” the Monkeys’ general manager Justin Liu told the website.

Belarus, meanwhile, is the last European country still hosting spectators at sporting events amid the pandemic, although audiences have shrunk over fears of contagion. For its Belarusian Cup semifinal match this week, national football club Dynamo Brest boosted its home crowd with at least 30 dummies topped with photographs of “virtual fans,” who bought tickets but decided to sit out the games.

According to the Associated Press, the dummies were dressed in “a motley array of old shirts ranging from a purple 2016-17 Real Madrid away jersey to early 1990s Aston Villa in claret and blue.”

Welcome to the future, folks! This is it.

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