Sports teams worried about playing in empty stadiums can now relax. A Lebanon company has come up with a solution.

DS Smith looks to manufacture cardboard cutout fans to “cheer on” professional athletes and fill sports arenas.

DS Smith, which has been manufacturing cardboard and other packaging products in Lebanon since January, unveiled its plans Thursday. The release says DS Smith is the first U.S manufacturer to reveal their plans for sustainable, extensive cardboard production that will “enliven a national sports scene that’s been hobbled by the pandemic.”

The Lebanon plant will be among the first packaging plants to manufacture these replacement fans, which are modeled after cheering men and women with their arms raised. The cutouts can be custom designed with a variety of tones and colored apparel to match specific sports teams, using DS Smith’s in-house pre-print capabilities. DS Smith will use Greencoat, a patented recyclable material, to make the cutouts waterproof for seats in outdoor venues.

The packaging company looks forward to using the Lebanon plant to provide a “literal fanbase” for sports teams around the country. Already, DS Smith has approached the NBA, MLB and Major League Soccer about using these cutouts as a safe substitute for actual fans. Eventually, the company plans to reach out to universities and high schools, as well as the pro leagues, said Barry Nelson, managing director of sales and marketing for the company.

“We look to sports as a unifier, and that’s been missing,” Nelson said. “We want to help solve that, and we can support teams across the country by designing a unique atmosphere while fans stay home to maintain social distancing because of the coronavirus. There is a motivation that goes with playing. This simulates having real fans in the seats and gives a sense of perspective to the players that they’re not all alone. This is how we can help teams and keep fans safe.”

Several professional leagues have already had to make adjustments because of the risk of spreading COVID-19. In late July, the NBA will start its abbreviated season in Walt Disney World in Florida, while the MLB will begin its 60-game season around the same time. Nelson and DS Smith have already seen the cardboard cutouts work effectively in European soccer clubs.

“This is a way to provide a safe dose of support for players and a quick and sustainable way to fill empty venues,” Nelson said.

The 555,000 square-foot facility can crank out more than 50,000 corrugated cutouts in just one eight-hour shift, according to the press release. Nelson said that at that rate, no matter how long these cardboard fans are needed, the Lebanon plant will be able to provide them.

In Nelson’s eyes, the development is an opportunity for both the sports community and the Lebanon community.

“Private ingenuity is what’s driving us on this sports project and others, and it will be key in helping the Indiana economy reopen,” Nelson said. “Lebanon is the home of a plant that is keeping America strong and on that path for recovery.”

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