Video Games Offer MLS Publicity Coup
Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 00:10
There was an article published recently on ESPN.com that recounted how hip-hop star Snoop Dogg (now Snoop Lion) became a soccer fan. While traveling in Europe a decade ago, the rapper’s “Madden” disk was scratched, and, when he couldn’t find another copy of the game in local stores, he bought “FIFA” as a stopgap until he found a copy of the American football game. As the story goes, Snoop Dogg never needed another copy: He became attached to the “FIFA” franchise and started to watch soccer on television as a result. He is now one of the series’ official spokesmen.
This year’s game, “FIFA 13,” has generated record sales. According to official records, 353,000 copies were sold in the first 48 hours of its American release — a 42 percent increase over last year’s numbers — and nearly 1.4 million online games were played in the U.S. in its first 24 hours of availability, 35 percent more than was the case last year.
But beyond the numbers, it can’t be understated how important the Electronic Arts franchise has been to the rise in popularity of soccer this side of the Atlantic. The narrative is often the same. Somebody begins by playing a soccer video game with a friend and finds he likes it. Once he purchases his own game, he must find out who the best players are to be successful, which then leads to watching those players in real life. Because of this, the popularity of the sport, especially that of top leagues like the English Premier League and Spain’s La Liga, has risen.
The problem, however, lies in the popularity of North America’s own league, Major League Soccer. There are positives: For example, the league’s attendance surpassed that of the NHL and NBA last season and now ranks eighth-highest of any soccer league in the world, although much of that is derived from the nearly 43,000 fans that pack Seattle’s CenturyLink Field for Sounders games. However, the television numbers aren’t nearly as promising, perhaps due to the league’s relatively inferior quality, especially in FIFA gameplay. Last season’s MLS Championship Game — played on a Saturday night — drew a 0.8 rating, comparable to the performance of a tape-delayed Chelsea-Liverpool matchup going up against NFL football the following afternoon.
Therefore, if one buys the idea that the FIFA franchise is significantly increasing North American interest in soccer, but that MLS is unable to reap the benefits, then it is clear that a marketing change in the league is needed.
I propose a more formal EA Sports and MLS partnership, which would result in the following product: “FIFA 13: Major League Soccer Edition.”
This new game, released annually in March — rather than September — to correspond with the beginning of the MLS season, would be significantly cheaper (in the $20 to $30 range), in part because it would be subsidized by MLS, and in part because the game itself would feature only minor improvements over its September counterpart. The game would feature exclusively MLS teams, but the player ratings would be boosted so that playing with D.C. United, for example, wouldn’t feel like playing with a high school J.V. team.
In theory, this game — essentially a patch — would force gamers to learn more about their local league, teams and players, and attendance and TV ratings would be driven up as casual interest increased. It’s doubtful that soccer will ever be the top sport in North America, but with continued help from the video game world, it could become closer than was ever thought possible. Eventually, maybe Snoop Lion — and a generation of young Americans — will be looking up to Chris Wondolowski and Darren Mattocks rather than Ronaldo and Messi.
Arik Parnass is a sophomore in the College. CANDID CANADIAN appears every Tuesday.