It's the human and fun side of our sports heroes

Piped noise, robots and ‘sex dolls’: how to liven up an empty stadium

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by Talek HARRIS

Livening up sport without fans is a challenge for competitions returning after the coronavirus, and organisers have tried several ways to make empty stadiums more appealing.

After South Korean football club FC Seoul was accused of placing sex dolls in the stands, AFP Sport looks at some of the innovations:

– Robot drummers –
Sport took a surreal twist when Taiwan’s baseball league started last month, with robots providing live music as they drummed in the stands.

In what could have been a scene from Star Wars, a group of robots — some wearing wigs — banged drums for Rakuten Monkeys’ opening game.

Mannequins wearing team colours were placed around the stadium, along with cardboard cut-outs of fans, media and players’ family members.

– Crowd sourcing –
Cardboard cut-outs have been a popular way to fill empty seats, but German football club Borussia Moenchengladbach took the idea a step further and gave fans the chance to have life-sized images of themselves in the stands.

Thousands of people have taken up the offer, where they pay 19 euros to have their image placed in the Borussia-Park stadium.

“The campaign organisers are regularly overrun with orders — we can hardly keep up trying to install them all,” fan representative Thomas Weinmann told the Bundesliga website.

– Piped noise –
The sound of tinny, recorded cheering has replaced the spine-tingling roar of the crowd in some stadiums. In South Korea’s K-League, recordings of popular chants have echoed around the country’s empty football venues, some of which hosted games at the 2002 World Cup.

Meanwhile, TV viewers of Australian Rules football will hear pre-recorded crowd noises laid over the match footage when games return next month.

“We’ve had a number of different trials and consulted a number of people, including from the movie business, just to get it right,” Lewis Martin, managing director of broadcaster Channel Seven, told AFL.com.au.

– App-lause –
Meanwhile, software developers have launched an app, MyApplause, which allows fans to create crowd noise from their homes.

Users can choose from cheering, clapping, chanting and whistling, and the resulting noise is played over the stadium loudspeakers and the spectators’ home sound systems. Team-specific logos and chants are available.

South Korean baseball has also taken a high-tech approach with fans beamed onto a stadium big screen as they watch the game online.

– Baseball barbecue –
Baseball cheerleaders in Taiwan have been carrying out live interactions with fans from the stadiums, chatting and broadcasting dance routines over their mobile phones. One cheerleader even cooked and ate a barbecue while sitting in the stands, while streaming herself on the internet.

Taiwan’s baseball league has enjoyed unaccustomed popularity during the coronavirus, with millions of sport-deprived fans watching English-language commentaries from overseas.

“We’ve talked about the food, the people, the way we’ve treated COVID-19 and the way we’ve contained it — it’s just been amazing exposure for Taiwan,” said English-language commentator Wayne McNeill.

– ‘Sex dolls’ –
But by far the most attention has been generated by South Korea’s FC Seoul, who were accused of putting sex dolls in their seats after mannequins advertising adult toys appeared at their match on Sunday.

FC Seoul denied the figures, reportedly provided by a distributor who offered them for free, were sex toys.

“We are sincerely sorry for causing deep concern to fans,” said a statement from the club, which is facing disciplinary proceedings.