Baseball and soccer fans rejoice! Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league and J.League have finally begun their 2020 seasons.
Stadium seats remain empty as of mid-July, but that isn’t stopping fans of Rakuten’s baseball and soccer teams from celebrating in some unique ways.
Vissel Kobe: Cardboard cutouts of fans and live loudspeaker cheering
For Rakuten’s J.League soccer team, Vissel Kobe, the 2020 season finally resumed on July 4. While the current Emperor’s Cup and Super Cup champions played to a stadium that missed the human warmth of fans in the stands, keen supporters still found ways to be part of the action and cheer on their heroes.
In one of several initiatives adopted for Vissel’s very first ‘remote match,’ the club placed speakers around the empty stadium and invited fans to ‘cheer,’ ‘applaud’ or ‘shout’ words of encouragement remotely through an app on their smartphones. The speakers would then respond to the number of fans cheering at any given moment.
For hardcore fans, the club sold special tickets granting access to live broadcasts from the locker rooms, online chats with Vissel players and…
a place for their own personal cardboard cutout in the stands.
Despite an opening defeat at the hands of Sanfrecce Hiroshima, fans and players remained upbeat, jumping on video calls with local medical workers dealing with COVID-19 and testing out the team’s new AR selfie filters. The team bounced back in the following match with a 1-0 win against Sagan Tosu as they look to make a charge towards a first J1 league title.
The Rakuten Eagles: Socially distant but together
Pro baseball’s Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles started off hot at home, defeating the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters 4-0 on June 23 at Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi, to kick off their 2020 home schedule. While the players didn’t have their regular entourage of supporters decking the stands in crimson and gold, Rakuten Eagles fans weren’t far away.
In addition to a spacious public viewing venue outside the team’s home stadium in Sendai, a collaboration with room rental service Rakuten STAY brought fans together to celebrate under the same roof — in separate rooms, of course. Fans rented private rooms in a Rakuten STAY hotel to watch the game ‘together,’ sharing the experience via video conference.
In addition to the regular Rakuten TV broadcast, the team also streamed candid moments from the bench, post-game interviews and special cheering performances over Rakuten’s livestreaming app Rakuten LIVE, which encourages viewers to comment and interact directly with what is happening onscreen.
The empty stadium clearly hasn’t discouraged the Rakuten Eagles, who are currently 13-8 and sit on top of the league ladder.
As the COVID-19 situation eases in Japan, the government is looking to relax restrictions on events, raising maximum attendee numbers from 1,000 to 5,000. While sports-starved baseball and soccer fans eagerly anticipate a return to stadiums around Japan, remote cheering and online viewing parties are unlikely to disappear anytime soon.