The German pro soccer league Bundesliga is aiming for a May return, but fans won't be in attendance as all large-scale public events in Germany are banned through Aug. 31 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A Borussia Mönchengladbach team fan, though, introduced an idea to both add a live atmosphere to games and help his local economy.
Ingo Müller, a member of Mönchengladbach's supporter's club, began selling cardboard cutouts of fans' likenesses to place in the team's Borussia-Park stadium seats during games. They cost $20.60, and Müller, who devised the plan while quarantining in Berlin, says he already sold 10,000. Each cutout gives business to a local printer in Mönchengladbach, Germany, and Müller says he's sending a portion of the proceeds to fans struggling financially during the pandemic.
Borussia Mönchengladbach is receptive to the idea. The team already stationed 3,000 cutouts across the 54,000-seat stadium, giving players a semblance of normalcy when they look to the stands.
"When players go through the tunnel and you see those supporters in the tribunes, you have the feeling someone is watching you," Markus Aretz, Borussia Mönchengladbach's head of communications and media, told Time. "It's a good feeling for the players. It's fun. It's a statement by the fans that they want to be with the team. It's a statement for us: The fans are part of the game."
While the team is adding cutouts, Aretz says it will not pump crowd noise into the stadium to ensure they don't "give supporters the feeling that we don't need you." Once supporters do return, Müller says he's throwing a party for people to take their cutouts home as souvenirs.
The Bundesliga originally, which would have made it the first European Soccer League to resume play. But the German league's timeline shifted after three unidentified personnel from the club Cologne this week, less than a month after clubs resumed practice. France canceled the Ligue 1 season and , and the is still planning its return.
Still, the German government has final authority on the Bundesliga's return date and has yet to announce its decision. As of Sunday, Germany has over 3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 236,000 deaths, per the AP.