Rakuten Monkeys’ robot fans a global sensation

As the professional sports world scrambles to adjust to widespread restrictions on large social gatherings, one Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) club is making global headlines for its unique efforts to generate an exciting game atmosphere amid empty stadiums.

With flesh and blood fans taking in the action from home, the Taiwan-based Rakuten Monkeys are filling the stands with lifelike robot mannequins and cardboard cutouts.

Cutouts of Rakuten CEO Mickey Mikitani also showed up to cheer the team on.
Cutouts of Rakuten CEO Mickey Mikitani also showed up to cheer the team on.

While Taiwan has been relatively successful in keeping the spread of COVID-19 to a minimum, authorities are erring on the side of caution, with limits of 500 people placed on outdoor gatherings. After delaying the beginning of the baseball season, the decision was made to hold CPBL games without an audience in the stands. Despite the disruption, the Monkeys, who are fresh off their third consecutive CPBL championship, weren’t ready to let COVID-19 get in the way of a thrilling season opener.

The stadium was open to just 200 humans — and mascot Rocky.
The stadium was open to just 200 people — and mascot Rocky.

Cue the robot mannequins

Restricted to just 200 people in the stadium — including players, team staff, umpires and reporters — the team decorated mannequins and cardboard cutouts in Rakuten colors and signs. During the game, robot drummers even gave a musical performance, boosting the Rakuten Monkeys to a 9-8 victory over the Uni Lions to start the season.

The unusual nature of the world’s first professional baseball league opener since the spread of the pandemic has turned heads around the globe. Below are a few of our favorite headlines — plus a bonus robotic musical performance from a certain Stephen Colbert.

Rakuten Monkeys robots made headlines across the globe.

Rakuten Monkeys robots make headlines

NBC – Professional baseball is back — in Taiwan, where robots will be the spectators

“America’s pastime is returning this weekend, nearly 8,000 miles away from the sport’s birthplace — in front of robot mannequins in the stands.”

Sports Illustrated – Chinese Professional Baseball League Resumes Games With Mannequin Fans

“The Rakuten Monkeys unveiled a slate of robot mannequins and cardboard cutouts for their matchup against the CTBC Brothers, and some of the robot fans even banged drums in the stands, per the American Foreign Press.”

People – Chinese Baseball Team Putting Robots in Stands Since Fans Can’t Attend

“If you build it, the… robots will come.

On Tuesday, the Rakuten Monkeys, a Taiwanese team that’s part of the Chinese Professional Baseball League, announced that they will stock their stands with an audience of robots and mannequins.”

Insider – Forget fans: Taiwan’s baseball league played in a stadium filled with robot mannequins and cardboard cutouts, and it could be a sign of what’s to come in the US

“Since we are not allowed to have any fans in attendance, we might as well have some fun with it,” Rakuten Monkeys’ general manager Justin Liu told CPBL Stats. “We went with 500 robot mannequins to comply with the current CDC guideline.”

New York Post – Baseball league restarts in Taiwan with robot and mannequin ‘fans’ in seats

“These baseball fans are real phonies. […]

The faux-fans were dolled up in real hats and shirts of the home team the Rakuten Monkeys, some pointing toward the field and others holding signs over their heads — via zip ties around their plastic wrists.”

NPR – Robot Mannequins Will Cheer On Chinese Professional Baseball Team(audio)

“Instead of playing to empty seats while fans are locked out because of the coronavirus, the Taiwan-based Rakuten Monkeys have installed robotic mannequins decked out in team colors.”

South China Morning Post – Robot drummers and cardboard ‘fans’ in stands for Covid-19 delayed Taiwan baseball season opener(video)

“The season opener for Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League got underway after nearly a month of delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with some help from robot drummers and cardboard “fans” in the stands.”

La Vanguardia – One Taiwanese baseball team is using robots to fill the stands of its empty stadium (Spanish)

“What’s more, the robots carried signs with messages to the players and some, curiously, wore masks as a kind of symbolic precaution to protect themselves from the coronavirus.”

Focus – No drumming robots just yet: Baseball league begins in Taiwan(German)

“The organizers in Taoyuan caused a stir with a strange idea. To create some kind of atmosphere in the stadium despite the spectator lockout, they installed drumming robots and cardboard cutouts to act as fans.”

The Nikkei – Victory for Rakuten in Taiwan season opener as mannequin spectators set the mood(Japanese)

“Signs and mannequins dressed up as spectators decorated the stands, setting the mood alongside drumming robots.”

And last, but not least:

A remarkable (if a bit robotic) performance of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Catch up on the latest news from the Rakuten Monkeys on their official YouTube channel.

For those in Japan, Rakuten Monkeys games are available to watch live and on-demand on Rakuten’s online streaming platform Rakuten TV.

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