With its quick move to close borders and begin contact tracing, Taiwan has been lauded as a clear-cut success case in planet Earth’s fight against COVID-19. The government’s swift response has so far limited cases of the virus to under 500 — with just 6 active cases as of June — a mere fraction of the total population of nearly 24 million.
That’s not to say Taiwan’s citizens aren’t taking precautions. According to data from Rakuten’s Taiwan-based e-commerce platform, online shoppers have driven up demand for everyday goods such as food products, as people avoid unnecessary trips to the supermarket. The platform also recently launched a pickup service allowing shoppers to order goods online and pick them up swiftly at the store, while food delivery has become significantly more common as people avoid gathering in restaurants.
Taiwanese workers are also snapping up office supplies to work from home, while households are investing in life at home with more exercise, cooking and cleaning products. Rakuten’s ebook service Kobo, which launched in Taiwan in 2016, has also seen a significant spike in readers, and is now said to be one of the world’s leading Traditional Chinese language e-reading services.
But despite this new homebound lifestyle, people in Taiwan are being afforded one luxury currently unavailable to the rest of the world: the Rakuten Monkeys and the local Chinese Professional Baseball League.
Baseball for Taiwan, baseball for the world
In April, after a short delay, Taiwan’s CPBL became the first league in the world to kick off its 2020 season, albeit to empty stadiums. It’s the maiden season for the newly christened Rakuten Monkeys, who immediately made international headlines by filling the empty seats with their own audience of cardboard cutouts of fans, mannequins and drum-beating robots, an idea that quickly made its way to other major sporting leagues such as the Bundesliga.
But despite the lack of fans in the stands, the Rakuten Monkeys and Taiwan’s baseball teams have found themselves playing to a bigger audience than ever before. As baseball-starved sports fans in the United States, Japan and around the world desperately sift through on-demand classic reruns for a game they haven’t yet seen, the Monkeys have stepped up to provide a rare treat in the form of live broadcasts of their home games with English commentary over Twitter and other broadcasting platforms.
The move has brought the 2019 champions into a brighter spotlight than ever before. With new Taiwanese baseball enthusiasts from across the globe tuning in, the online broadcasts have attracted as many as a million fans globally.
Monkeys manager Justin Liu is aware of how important Taiwanese baseball has become for sports fans everywhere. “We will be broadcasting in English for the whole 2020 season,” he says. “It certainly wasn’t something we were planning for, but we’re proud to be bringing happiness to baseball fans around the world.”
The road back to regular
As Taiwan gradually eases social distancing restrictions, the league is beginning to open games back up to fans. “Right now we’re allowing 2,000 fans in per game, and we are looking to expand that in the near future*,” Liu says. “It’s a bit of an inconvenience for our fans, but we’re all getting used to these measures.”
The lack of access to the stadium hasn’t dampened fans’ thirst for fresh Monkeys merchandise. Brand collaborations with Rakuten have sparked unprecedented demand for paraphernalia on the e-commerce platform, and the partnership has brought in more new users than ever before.
Once the teams start playing to full stadiums again, there’s little doubt that Monkeys fans will be decked out in Rakuten colors.
* Editor’s Note: The limit for the number of fans admitted per game across the league has been raised to 50% capacity of the stadium as of Sunday, June 7.