Should There Be Improved Fan Cutouts?
Updated: Jan 8, 2021
Obviously, the hope across all sports is that stadiums can be filled at max capacity in a safe manner for the fans, players, staff, etc., as soon as possible. However, with the timetable for the full return of fans at sporting events in the U.S. still up in the air, it seems plausible that teams/leagues with upcoming seasons will be considering ‘best’ and ‘worst’ case scenarios. Considering a possible ‘worst’ case scenario, where fans are not allowed or are allowed only at a small capacity, it wouldn’t be surprising if teams tried to get fans more involved in the game in a ‘virtual’ manner, and to do so in a way that creates revenue. Consider the fan cutouts that teams have put in stadiums in lieu of actual fans. To highlight the monetary effect of these cutouts, let's create an example using numbers from the Philadelphia Phillies’ (MLB) cutouts from this past season. According to the Philadelphia Business Journal in September of this year, 10,000 fan cutouts is a/the number of cutouts the Phillies had. The average of the one-time-payment price for these cutouts was $32.50 (Philadelphia Business Journal (2)), and, for the sake of the example, let’s assume the number of cutouts stays at exactly 10,000 throughout the season. Therefore 10,000 cutouts x $32.50 per cutout = $325,000 in revenue from the cutouts; to compare, statista.com notes that, “In 2019, the gate receipts of the Philadelphia Phillies were at 108 million U.S. dollars”. It is clear that this comparison is affected by other factors (I am thinking of at least two), like a difference in number of ‘seats’ sold (‘seats’ being cutouts/actual tickets) between our example and that of 2019, which distorts this from being a clear comparison between cutouts and in-person attendance. Regardless, it appears evident that there is a large difference in revenue between the two methods.
However, this field of cutouts is an area where teams could look to earn more cash with an improved product. For instance, one article from June of this year mentions a differentiated idea: “Using AR, an Iceland-based company, OzSports, is trying to project avatars of fans into seats. In Denmark, one team brought 10k fans into its stadium with Zoom” (thehustle.co). To follow the Zoom-idea, a way for teams to achieve this would be to connect fans at home to the game via some sort of camera/camcorder attached to a stand in a particular seat, or maybe even a fan cutout - a ‘camera-cutout’, if you will.
Now this undertaking would definitely take an investment in both time and money. Assumingly, there needs to be money put towards ‘cameras’ of high quality in both video quality and ability to handle inclement-weather (if outdoors), and time put to actually install the camera into the cutout/stand/seat/etc. Although I am not certain if this is the type of ‘camera’ that would actually be used for streaming a live sporting event, according to Epiphan Video, “an AV equipment manufacturer” (Wikipedia), it seems that a live-streaming “Professional budget” ‘camera’ could cost at least a thousand-plus dollars (Epiphan) - so teams would need to spend cash on buying the cameras, set up, and also (eventually) on any logistical errors that might arise (‘cameras’ working poorly/breaking, for example). Overall, this might take a good amount of effort by the teams, and it might not be worth it; but maybe, for the right price, this could become a helpful means of cash intake in lieu of (expanded) in-person attendance. Think of courtside seats to an NBA game, which (I think) can go for thousands of dollars a ticket per game. Basketball franchises could try to leverage the courtside-view of particular ‘cutout-cameras’ to fans, charging a higher price for these live streams than a stream from a ‘regular’ seat’s ‘cutout-camera’. Yet with the courtside seats in mind, but also on a broader scale, issues arise: how ‘zoomed in’ are these ‘cameras’? (Depending on the ‘zoom’ of the ‘camera’) Are they able to actively be rotated - what happens if the ‘action’ leaves the frame of the camera, and the viewer misses it? If these ‘camera-cutouts’ were to be high in quantity in a given stadium/arena, would it really work to have employees stationed at each ‘camera(s)’ to move it in order to follow the action (if the action is not in view)? Alas, maybe having the ‘camera’ adjusted would be a component of paying for a ‘better’ ‘camera-cutout’ - it would be adjusted to follow the action from that seat, just as if the TV broadcast camera was positioned there.
Ultimately, if fans don’t find the overall experience of a live-stream-from-the-seats as worth the extra money (in comparison to just watching the game on TV), then the idea will (if it ever happens) most likely flop. Maybe only fans who live-and-die by their particular seat in a stadium would find these ‘camera-cutouts’ of use. Overall, we will just have to wait and see what (if anything) develops in this topic.