The Bucs may have gotten the last laugh in the form of a 28-10 victory over the 0-3 Broncos. Still, the approximately 5,700 fans allowed to attend the Sept. 28 game got to yuck it up with cardboard cutouts of characters from the long-running animated television series.
Cardboard cutout have been a common gimmick in 2020
Just about everything in sports has been changed since mid-March by the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA went on a months-long hiatus and then resumed its season in a bubble. Major League Baseball nearly didn’t start at all, and the NCAA Tournament was over before it even began.
Even the NFL, which went through the fewest disruptions thanks to the timing of the start of its season, has had to deal with the most obvious change: There are few or no fans allowed at games. Teams in all sports, both nationally and around the world, have been making do with improvised crowds. The NBA put virtual fans in the stands at Disney World in Orlando, but most everyone else resorted to cardboard cutouts.
Baseball in Asia and soccer in several regions of the world got the jump on the idea of using cardboard cutouts and mannequins to create some semblance of atmosphere and make stadiums look a little less sterile on TV. The San Francisco Giants helped start the stateside trend in late June by announcing that season-ticket holders could send an image of themselves to be placed onto a cutout to be displayed in the stands.
Most other teams quickly followed suit, which is how the Denver Broncos got to their South Park day for the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There were some epic fails along the way
Soccer resumed in England in mid-June, again with empty stadiums. When Leeds United played its first home game, fans were invited to submit photos that would be pasted onto cardboard cutouts. One mischievous supporter paid the $30 fee and sent in a photo of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. No one from the club realized they had been pranked, and the cutout found a place in the front row inside Elland Road Stadium.
A Leeds United representative apologized and vowed that the club would be more vigilant for its next home contest the following week. Unfortunately, that match didn’t go much better. Instead of safe cartoon fare like the South Park characters that the Denver Broncos deployed in Week 3, the soccer club ended up showcasing a picture of Joseph Schreibvogel, better known to fans of Tiger King on Netflix as Joe Exotic.
Schreibvogel was convicted on multiple federal charges in 2019, including murder for hire, and is serving a 22-year sentence.
‘South Park’ invades the Denver Broncos game
If nothing else, the NFL does marketing quite well. It builds its schedule so that fans can watch virtually non-stop football over 10 consecutive hours on Sundays, and the league sells merchandise by the truckload.
And they’re not averse to a little cross-marketing, either. On Sept. 27 in Denver, the Broncos allowed about 5,700 fans into Empower Field at Mile High Stadium. To complement them, the Broncos positioned more than 1,800 cardboard cutouts of characters from South Park in the stands. Naturally, they were all wearing masks.
The animated series made its debut on Comedy Central in 1997 and kicks off its new season on Sept. 30 at 8 p.m. ET with an hour-long special built around the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tie-in with the football team was a natural. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the series, are Broncos fans from their days attending the University of Colorado. Characters in the show have been known to make references to the Broncos and their players as well.