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No fans, no problem?

September 22, 2010

This afternoon, I came across an interesting story in the Wall Street Journal about Triestina, a professional soccer team in Italy’s Serie B (the second tier). For years, the team has been drawing fewer 6,900 fans per game in their 32,454-seat stadium (sound familiar?). But unlike EMU, which has resorted to paying schools for sending people, Triestina owner Stefano Fantinel hit upon a novel solution.

In a bid to improve the ambience, make its games look better on TV, earn a little extra advertising revenue and save a little money on game-day operations, Triestina has installed what is believed to be the sports world’s first “virtual crowd.”

The team has printed photographs of fans on huge vinyl sheets and stretched them across an entire side — the side facing the television cameras (every game is televised).

While the images don’t stand up to close scrutiny — the images show fans wearing winter coats and scarves, while Trieste has been enjoying high temperatures in the 70s and lows in the 50s (Fahrenheit) this month — they do give the appearance, at a glance, of a packed stadium. On top of making the game experience look better on TV, the team sold advertisements near the base of each banner, and saves about $130,000 per season by closing off the entire section. According to Fantinel, the banners will pay for themselves “very soon”.

I’m not suggesting that this is a great idea for EMU, since not that many home games are televised, but the next time they release obviously fictitious attendance numbers, they might consider taking it a step farther and dressing up Rynearson Stadium to look the part.

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