A struggling South Korean Major League baseball team has come up with a novel idea to boost players’ morale. They’re replacing human fans with robots called ‘Fanbots’, all in a bid to improve the atmosphere at their matches.
The promo video for ‘Fanbot – the world’s first cheering robot’ rides high on the emotions involved while watching a match. “Fans of Hanwha Eagles always come to the stadium to cheer for the team,” the video states. “But those who cannot come to the stadium watch the game on the web or on their phones and cheer through commenting online. What if there was a robot cheering for those fans?”
It’s not easy being a fan of the Hanwha Eagles – most fans are subject to ridicule because of the team’s poor performance. The Hanwha Eagles have suffered over 400 losses in the past five years. Fans of the team are regarded with sympathy – they’ve even been dubbed ‘Buddhist Saints’ and ‘Hanwha Chickens’ by fans of other teams. The humiliation has been so great that many fans don’t feel like attending games anymore. Others simply do not have the time.
But it doesn’t matter anymore if Hanwha Eagles supporters aren’t able to make it to the stadium – they can now control robotic versions of themselves through an online interface and even upload their photographs on to screens on the bots’ faces, as a personal touch. The bots are designed to cheer, chant and even perform a Mexican wave, but unlike their real-life counterparts, the bots will never invade the pitch.
According to an expert, the bots give more fans a chance to ‘attend’ matches, making the stadium full, which is quite important for players and professional clubs. “If you look at all the big clubs, you can’t just get a season ticket – you have to sit on a waiting list,” said Matt Cutler, editor of SportsBusiness International.
“There is also potential monetisation. You can charge, even if it’s a small amount, to give fans a different kind of viewpoint.”
Fans’ reactions to the bots have been rather mixed – some think it’s a brilliant idea, while diehard fans are dismissing them as gimmicks. “What happens if a robotic fan misbehaves?” joked football fan John Hemmingham, who runs the famous England supporters brass band. “Gets aggressive, abusive, spills a drink… I can see it being fraught with danger. What if it sits in the wrong section? A robotic hooligan!”
Interestingly, South Korea happens to be a powerhouse in international baseball – they even won the gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Given how popular the sport is among the Koreans, it is indeed surprising that the Hanwha Eagles fans don’t attend many matches. “Everyone’s got a phone with them, checking other things,” said Cutler. “The days have gone where people are completely engrossed in the match.”
I suppose the robots are a good way to entice fans back to the stands. As the promo video states: “The fan and the Fanbot make victory together.”