Who’s That in the Stands? European, Australian Sports Leagues Use Cardboard Cutouts to Recreate Fan Experience

The Coronavirus pandemic forced sports leagues worldwide to suspend their respective seasons or pause for a potential return later on such as the NHL. As some leagues resume, fans will not be allowed to return to the stands as the spread of COVID-19 remains a major threat. However, some soccer and rugby teams in Europe and Australia are resorting to alternative options for the authentic fan experience: cardboard cutouts of fans of the stands.

On June 21, cardboard cutouts debuted in the stands at Bankwest Stadium in New South Wales, Australia, for the NRL’s (National Rugby League) Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs game. It was part of the league’s “Fan in the Stand” promotion, which gives fans the opportunity to support their teams from the safety of their homes, although some fans chose to take a more humorous route.

The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Matt Bungard spent $22 to have his dog, a Japanese Spitz, on a cardboard cutout.

More fans sent in fake photos pretending to represent their cutout. One fan even proposed for everyone to send photos of Aussie actor Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith character from the action trilogy The Matrix to be in the stands for NRL games.

The promotion allows fans to be portrayed on a 100% recyclable cutout and placed in their team’s current home venue for only $22. “We wanted to make sure the lifeblood of the NRL, our members, and fans had the chance to pull on their jerseys, don their club colors and support in a really fun way,” Peter Jarmain, NRL Head of Marketing said. “I know the players and clubs will appreciate the support, even if the fans aren’t able to shout, celebrate, and jump around for the tries and hits as they usually would.”

Despite its good intentions, the NRL is reviewing the screening process after some cutouts displayed problematic individuals. A cutout of Dr. Harold Shipman was discovered even in the packed stadium for the Penrith Panthers and Newcastle Knights game on June 2. Shipman was an English general practitioner, who was found guilty of 15 counts of murder in 2000; his number of victims is suspected to be higher.

Screen Shot 2020-06-30 at 2.36.24 PMPhoto: @Grey_Sergeant

A cutout of British politician Dominic Cummings was also spotted in the stands during the Roosters-Rabbitohs match. Cummings, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top advisor, was under fire after traveling from London to Durham and back during the country’s Coronavirus lockdown in May.

Screen Shot 2020-06-30 at 2.48.31 PMPhoto: @stickfarmeruk

An apparent cardboard cutout of Adolf Hitler sparked a backlash along with an on-air segment about the Nazi dictator by Matthew Johns, an Australian rugby league commentator and former professional player. Johns apologized saying the segment was “poor taste and completely inappropriate”. He added, “I know how raw and devastating those events remain for so many people and families. I acknowledge it was wrong and I apologize to our viewers and to everyone in the community who is rightly concerned and offended by the segment.”

Galatasaray S.K., a professional football club on the European side of Istanbul, Turkey, honored the late NBA legend Kobe Bryant during a match on June 21 against Gaziantep.

Bryant had been fond of soccer throughout his career. Growing up in Italy, he visited several European clubs, including Galatasaray. Byrant visited the team in 2011 and took part in a penalty shootout with some players.

Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash on January 26. Bryant retired from the NBA in 2016 but spent a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, won five championships, and was named NBA Finals MVP twice and the NBA’s MVP in 2007-08.

Nearly one month after the tragic loss in the sports world, Galatasaray tweeted in remembrance of Bryant and called his visit “one of the fondest memories in our club history.”

Our last stop takes us to Elland Road, a football stadium in Leeds, England, where a cardboard cutout of Tiger King star Joe Exotic was spotted at a Leeds United-Fulham match recently.

Leeds United removed a cutout submitted of terrorist Osama Bin Laden last week. The club’s spokesman said “checks are in place” to make sure there are no more offensive images in the future.

By Della Young

About Della Young

Della Young is an aspiring novelist and screenwriter who earned a BFA in Creative Writing from Full Sail University in 2021. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Screenwriting from Regent University. Della comes from a family of big Capitals fans and became inspired to start writing for hockey in 2019. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, cooking, and working on both sides of the camera. Follow Della on X: @dellayoung
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