Stadiums used to be filled with lively crowds of cheering fans — now the stands are filled with cardboard.. The Los Angeles Dodger Foundation raised $1.9 million dollars from fans purchasing cutouts last season and the recent Super Bowl LV had 30,000 cardboard fans to create the illusion of a full crowd. USC Athletics also jumped on the bandwagon allowing USC fans to purchase cutouts to men’s basketball, women’s basketball and volleyball games.

Freshman business major Molly Hammer purchased a cardboard cutout for one of the USC football games in the 2020 season,.She said she feels having a cardboard cutout helps remedy the loss of in-person games.

“Since I couldn’t be at an actual game, the cutouts were the best thing I could think of to be ‘included’ in the crowd,” Hammer told Annenberg Media. “Nobody could go to the games, so getting my cutout made me feel like I was doing all that I could to still stay involved with game days.”

Riley Dutton cardboard cutout of her dog after they picked it up at the end of the season (Photo by Riley Dutton)
Riley Dutton cardboard cutout of her dog after they picked it up at the end of the season (Photo by Riley Dutton)

Other USC fans and their families purchased cardboard cutouts for games with the hopes that they would be seen during timeouts and breaks. Riley Dutton, a freshman public relations major, told Annenberg Media that her family purchased a cardboard cutout of their dog for the football season so they could “play I-spy during the game while looking for him.” Her family never saw the cutout during the game, which Dutton said was “disappointing and made us feel ripped off, but the anticipation after purchasing definitely got us excited.”

But the impact of the cutouts is more of a team effort than an individual one. The presence of a crowd in the age of COVID-19 could help boost player morale while staying focused.

“I imagine that it makes the whole scenario somewhat more realistic for the players,” Callaghan said. “I imagine that it is somewhat more agreeable to the players than to be performing in a soulless, silent amphitheater - but..without the distraction of crowd noise - and comments.”

As far as what athletes’ take on the issue, placing cardboard cutouts in the seats of the Galen Center throughout the USC Men’s basketball season has proven to boost morale for the team. “Looking back and seeing them, my dogs, my mom and dad put a smile on my face every time,” USC basketball player Max Agbonkpolo said about the cardboard cutouts of his family. “It just keeps me happy throughout the game.”

“I always love to play. I don’t care if there are fans or no fans,” Agbonkpolo said. “But of course, I wish there were fans.”

During the 2020 football season, the USC Song Girls — an iconic part of Trojan football since 1968 — were unable to perform in the Coliseum for the first time in their 53-year history. To make up for it, each member of the 2020 Song Girl team was given a free cardboard cutout of themselves to be seated in the Coliseum for the 2020 season.

Julia is a 2020 Song Girl and sophomore at USC, who only provided her first name because it is part of Song Girl policy for speaking to members of the media. She said she was optimistic about the impact that these cutouts would have.

“I think that possibly a virtual/televised crowd could’ve provided more support,” Julia told Annenberg Media, “but I understand that this is the safest way for fans to participate in our current health crisis at the moment.”