MLB Teams Find Success Cutting Out Fans

Fans and team charities benefit from a new take on cardboard cutouts

With the return of Major League Baseball next week, COVID-19 has forced front office staffs to face their nightmare scenario head on: What would happen if we played a game and we didn’t sell a single ticket?

With all 30 teams set to start playing a shortened 60-game MLB season next week, in empty stadiums to limit pandemic exposure and spread, teams are looking everywhere for ways to engage their fans.

An idea that is taking off right now is a play on the old cardboard cutout.

Without fans allowed in person, teams are killing three birds (sorry, Orioles) with one stone and:

  1. Engaging with season ticket holders and other fans
  2. Filling the empty void of seats to improve TV aesthetic
  3. Raising money for team foundations currently without ability to fundraise through traditional methods, i.e., golf outings, meet & greets, galas, 5K runs, etc.

Following today’s latest cutout launches from the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays, TMR is aware of at least 14 teams who have rolled out, or plan to roll out week, a “virtual fan” option. (See chart below.)

The cutout craze comes to us courtesy of Germany’s Bundesliga and South Korea’s KBO which saw cutouts explode in popularity as they returned to play without fans.

Interestingly, the first success was not the idea of Germany’s Borussia Mönchengladbach. It was a German filmmaker, Ingo Müller, upset over not being able to attend his favorite team’s game, who contacted a local printer and set to build a portal where fans could upload photos of themselves. For €19 ($21 USD), he would print out each photo on a cardboard cutout and install it in the stadium, with proceeds given to team associated charities. All of this was done with the permission of Gladbach ownership.

Müller hoped for somewhere between 500 and 2,000 orders. The tally? More than 21,000.

With MLB teams the first “major” league teams to return to play in their own venues rather than a “bubble,” team execs decided to take cutout matters into their own hands.

On Jun 30, less than a week after MLB announced its return to play, the Oakland A’s became the first team to unveil a cutout program.

The Milwaukee Brewers and Kansas City Royals quickly followed the next day.

Teddy Werner, Brewers SVP, Brand Experience, is a Bundesliga fan who enjoyed seeing the Gladbach fans show their passion–in cutout.

“What Gladbach did was wildly successful,” Werner says. “We decided to try a ‘Cutout Crew’ idea, with the original plan to limit to 500 seats in Section 422, by the Bob Uecker statue. We thought it would be a nice way to involve our fans, and the location was a nice tie to Bob’s 50th anniversary with the Brewers.”

The 500 seats sold out in 90 minutes.

The Brewers “Cutout Crew” started with 500 spots closest to Bob Uecker’s statueMilwaukee Brewers

The Brewers decided to add the sections adjoining to 422 and kept selling.

“We’re up to several thousand sold and are not putting any limit on them now that we’ve become comfortable with the process,” Werner told TMR today. “It’s really been quite remarkable as nearly everyone is pictured in Brewers gear. And with our new uniforms, it’s fun to see so many of our great fans in the new look.”

And thanks to the Brewers, cutouts aren’t just for humans any more. That’s right, this past Wednesday, the team announced a “Pets in the Park” cutout program. Proceeds from “Pets in the Park” will all go to the Wisconsin Humane Society, while money from “Crew Cutouts” benefits the Brewers Community Foundation.

Apologies to Bob “I Must Be In The Front Row” Uecker, but the Red Sox have his Uecker Seats beat with their “Monster Home Run Challenge” that puts cutouts on the famed “Green Monster.”

This morning, the Red Sox became the latest MLB club to unveil a fan cutout program.

It’s the priciest of all the cutouts at $500, but there are a maximum of 250 spots on Fenway Park‘s one-of-a-kind left field wall. Offered solely to season ticket holders, the Red Sox will double the number available by selling the cutouts for the first 15 or last 15 home games. (UPDATE: After allowing season ticket holders the first crack for three days, the team opened up the opportunity to all fans Sunday, Jul 19.)

The cool location is not all, however, as anyone whose cutout is hit by a Red Sox player’s home run will get the ball–autographed by the player and MLB Authenticated–along with a personalized jersey and two Monster seats for 2021.

With J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogarts leading the way for a team that averaged just under 1.5 homers per game last year, the odds a decent we’ll see multiple winners.

“Oh man, we’re excited for that first one, just to see it get nailed!” laughed Kirsten Martin, Sr. Development Officer for the Foundation.

As a consolation for not getting nailed, all those who buy a cutout will get a photo of a personalized Fenway scoreboard message, plus assorted 2020 giveaways.

With a potential to raise $250,000 from this effort, the Red Sox Foundation could use every penny. The pandemic has wiped out 40 events and all in-person fundraising through the end of year for an organization that was tracking to raise upwards of $14 million in 2020, pre-COVID-19.

However, they plan to carve out some cutouts to recognize key community partners and even some of their “Red Sox Scholars” program.

Perhaps the best part is that this has been a total MLB team effort. It began with the Red Sox Marketing and Ticketing teams coming to the Foundation to discuss how the team could

“First, we consulted with other teams already doing cutouts and gathered their best practices,” says Tyler Petropulos, Foundation Asst. Director of Programs. “Then our Creative Services group really lead the way along with Ballpark Ops. It really has been the combined effort of so many different departments here to make this happen.”

Our big unanswered question: Will we see any pets on the “Monstah”?

Team cutout offerings
UPDATED: Jul 24, 2020
Teams offering cutouts Pricing Charity Description/Notes
Atlanta Braves $25/$50 Braves Foundation (Link) SOLD OUT; $25 A-List / $50 General
Boston Red Sox $500 Red Sox Foundation (Link) Coroplast
Chicago White Sox $49 White Sox Charities (Link) SOLD OUT; “Fantastic Faces”; 1,500 for 1st home stand ONLY
Cleveland Indians $0 N/A Free–held a lottery for STH
Houston Astros $100 Astros Foundation (Link) Placed in Crawford Boxes, Houston Methodist Hall of Fame Alley, Bud Patio & Bullpen; 2019 ALCS Replica Ring with each cutout
Kansas City Royals $40 Royals Respond Fund (Link) 500 “Fanbassador” cutouts available for STH; up for entire season
Los Angeles Dodgers $149/$299 Dodgers Foundation (Link) $149=Field Level/Loge / $299=Pavilion HR (OF) or Dugout Club (HP); 18″x30″; coroplast; MLB Authenticated
Milwaukee Brewers $50 Brewers Community Fndn.* (Link) “Cutout Crew”; 24″x18”; near the Bob Uecker “Last Row” statue
Minnesota Twins (m) $0 N/A (Link) 53′ H x 38′ 7″ W over Sect 331 “U.S. Bank Home Run Porch,” features photos of more than 3,000 fans
New York Mets $69/$86 Mets Foundation (Link) $69=via 7 Line Army / $86=via via Mets
Oakland Athletics $49/$89/$149 Piscotty Family Foundation (Link) If cutout in the $149 ALS CURE Project Zone “catches” a foul ball, fan receives Piscotty signed photo
Philadelphia Phillies $25/$40 Phillies Charities (Link) $25 STH / $40 General; throughout ballpark
San Francisco Giants $99 Multiple (Link) Coroplast; 18″ x 30″; mixed w/celebs, alums; MLB Authenticated
Seattle Mariners $30 Local COVID-related efforts (Link) Also: Virtual Cheer videos played at T-Mobile Park during games
Tampa Bay Rays $40/$60 N/A (Link) $40=Season Ticket Holders / $60=General
Texas Rangers $50 Rangers Foundation (Link) “Doppel Rangers”; coroplast

(m) = doing Fan Mosaic, not a cutout

The Texas Rangers staff not only had fun with their cutout program’s name–DoppelRangers–but they even made FAQs F-U-NTexas Rangers
Teams undetermined
Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds
Colorado Rockies
Detroit Tigers
Los Angeles Angels
Pittsburgh Pirates
San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays
Washington Nationals

 

Teams not doing cutouts
Arizona Diamondbacks
Baltimore Orioles
Miami Marlins
New York Yankees
St. Louis Cardinals

Common threads for cutout success
  • Coroplast — this inexpensive, durable material was used by every team who shared which material they chose
  • Local Vendors — none of the teams were producing or printing cutouts in house, but using local vendors they have established relationships with
  • Local Benefit — a charity tie is essential
  • Share Proof — take photos of cutouts in place posted on team website showing fans their location
  • Do Not Discard — fans want to be able to collect their cutouts after they are used; most clubs are planning to do a post-season handoff with exact details TBD due to unknown pandemic impact at that point
  • Have FUN — The Rangers did the impossible–they made reading the FAQs readable! (above)
  • It’s in the Details — Provide very detailed instructions in your “Photo Submission Guide” (see good example from the Mariners is below)

Chris brings deep sports business experience to his role as publisher of TMR. He first put his sales, experiential marketing, PR, sales and valuation skills to work in sporting goods retail in 1986. He has since worked for brands and agencies across all major league sports, plus golf, college athletics, marathons and motorsports. Chris is also the proud founder of Painless Networking.