Japan develops remote cheer app for empty sports stadiums

The cheers or jeers will then be broadcast into the stadiums through loudspeakers during matches, bringing a little dose of their adulation and frustration back to the players.

It is an experiment that will be closely watched in other countries. U.S. baseball, football and hockey leagues are already making plans to resume behind closed-doors in coming months and wrestling with the problem of how make matches seem meaningful without fans in attendance.

German top-flight soccer has already resumed and the Bundesliga has been experimenting with artificial crowd noise during live broadcasts. ESPN’s Korean baseball broadcasts have also used some light crowd noise, while Fox is reportedly planning to do the same for its NFL telecasts in the fall. But reviews of artificial crowd noise have so far been mixed.

But Japan’s app goes much further, allowing soccer fans to choose a range of reactions — from cheer, chant, clap or shout, through to groan and boo — with a simple tap of their smartphone. Personal messages can also be recorded, and all the noise will then reverberate around the stadium.

While Bundesliga players don’t hear the artificial crowd noise, which is reserved for television viewers, players in Japanese soccer’s J-League will be motivated in real time by the reactions of their fans.

Japanese soccer is expected to resume later this month or early next after a gap of four months, while the professional baseball league is scheduled to resume on July 19. Fans of both sports will be barred from the stadiums due to concerns about coronavirus.

Yamaha Corporation, which has developed the app, recently tested the system at a 50,000-capacity stadium in Shizuoka, at a friendly game between Jubilo Iwata and Shimizu S-Pulse.

“At one point during the system field test, I closed my eyes and it felt like the cheering fans were right there in the stadium with me,” said Keisuke Matsubayashi, an official with the stadium company, according to Reuters.

“This system had the potential to cheer players on even in a stadium of this size.”

Whether the system catches on remains to be seen but it’s certainly a better idea than one tried out by a South Korean soccer team this month.

FC Seoul was fined a record 100 million Korean won ($80,000) after its attempt to add a little atmosphere into one of its games backfired spectacularly. The club was forced to apologize after putting dozens of sex dolls in empty seats at a closed-door match.

Korea’s soccer governing body said it accepted the club’s claim that it did not know the mannequins were sex toys, but said it should have used common sense and added the incident had “deeply humiliated and hurt women fans.”

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