As It Happens

Taiwan's professional baseball league replaces human fans with cardboard spectators

As sports arenas and stadiums sit empty around the world amid the coronavirus pandemic, Taiwan's baseball season is getting back into the swing, but with a twist -  it's being played in front of a cardboard mannequin crowd.

A stadium filled with fake people has a 'very different atmosphere,' commentator Richard Wang says

Cardboard cutouts of fans seen at the Chinese Professional Baseball League season's opening game between Rakuten Monkeys and CTBC Brothers. (Gene Wang/Getty Images)


As sports arenas and stadiums sit empty around the world during the coronavirus pandemic, Taiwan's baseball season is getting back into the swing, but with a twist —  it's being played in front of a cardboard mannequin crowd.

Richard Wang, an English-language commentator for Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL), said while it may not be business as usual, it's still baseball and that's good enough for him. 

According to Johns Hopkins University, Taiwan has a total of 395 confirmed cases of the virus and nine deaths. The island has been praised for its rapid response and ability to curb the spread of its COVID-19 outbreak. 

Wang told As It Happens guest host Piya Chattopadhyay that Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium has a "very different atmosphere" when its filled with fake people instead of rowdy human fans. 

"We [usually] have the home opener with thousands and thousands of fans. They dance, they sing from the first at-bat to the final at-bat. It's like a rock concert without an intermission."

Here is part of their conversation: 

Richard, I know we've reached you in the stadium where the ball games have been happening this week. Tonight was the fifth game of the week. How did it all go? 

Oh, it was a pretty exciting game. We had so many home runs tonight. At the end of the game, the Monkeys prevailed and defeated the visiting Guardians, 11 to 10. 

We had a lot of fake people in the stands and when the camera was shooting those I think they all looked very happy.

Richard Wang, an English-language commentator, said having a stadium filled with fake people presented a 'very different atmosphere.' (Gene Wang/Getty Images)

The home opener was played just this week as well. What was it like without any human fans in the stands?

This year, because of the pandemic that is going on, we have nobody in the stadium for the opening and … it is quiet. But not that quiet because the club still has the music going on and there are real [cheerleaders] dancing and singing on the side of the stands still. 

So it's different, but we're trying to make it [as] close to what it should be, as normal as it can be. Nonetheless, it's very different for the players as well. 

So in the stadium, you have the players, the officials, the umpire, as you said, there's some cheerleaders. You also have fake fans. Tell me about the fake fans.

The club [is] being very creative since we can't have real fans in the stadium right now. They are using cardboard to print out the faces of fans. Actually, you can purchase this cardboard for the club to put your face on it as if you're in the stadium watching your favourite players.

The Rakuten Monkeys Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium in Taiwan. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing all baseball games to be help behind closed doors. (Gene Wang/Getty Images)

In addition to the mannequins, there are robot drummers … to create an atmosphere for the players as if there are fans there. 

And in order to comply with government regulations they made 500 fake people, because for outdoor events you can't exceed 500 people.

So there's 500 cardboard cutouts of people so they can comply with the physical distancing regulations? 

Oh, definitely. They are all sitting very far from each other. 

Who came up with the idea?

It's the creative marketing team from Rakuten baseball. They are a big Japanese e-commerce giant [and] they purchased the team at the end of last year. Then they used a lot of their resources they have in Japan [to pay for the mannequins]

Human cheerleaders pose with a robot cheerleading team. (Gene Wang/Getty Images)

But the thing is, we really hope that [during the] later part of season we'll be able to fill the stadium with the fans, real fans, because while people can watch the games on TV, they still want to come here.

This is part of our life. [We want to] invite [all our] friends back to the stadium so they can sing, dance and maybe yell a little bit to let us have the normal feeling of a baseball game. 

Written by Adam Jacobson. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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