French Soccer League Sets Out A Blueprint For Integrating Esports With Traditional Sports

Posted By Joss Wood on October 28, 2016 - Last Updated on January 22, 2018

[toc]On Nov. 7, the first professional esports soccer league begins in France.

The French Ligue de Football Professional (LFP) has struck a deal with FIFA 17 producer, Electronic Arts (EA), to run an esports league in parallel with the Ligue 1 2016/2017 football season.

All 20 Ligue 1 soccer clubs will sponsor two players, one for PS4 and one for Xbox One, to compete in the new e-league.

Didier Quillot, executive general manager, of the LFP said:

“The LFP is very proud to partner with EA Sports for launch the e-LEAGUE 1. This agreement between a sports institution and a video game publisher is a great first for French and European sports.

E-sports is a growing area and is becoming a real market with both media rights, sponsorship, ticketing and merchandising. We are very happy to create an innovative project as a source of new revenue and exposure for our clubs.”

Championnat de France e-Ligue 1 2016/2017

The competition web site goes live on Nov. 7, but fans can sign up for updates immediately.

The competition will use the FIFA ULTIMATE TEAM (FUT) game mode. During the 2016/2017 season, the e-Ligue 1 will be run in three phases:

  • Winter Tournament“- from November 2016 to January 2017
  • Spring Tournament“- from February to March 2017
  • Play-Offs“- May 2017

The final will be played on both Xbox One and PS4, and the winner of the play-off will, with his sponsoring club, be crowned champion de France de e-LIGUE 1.

The sequence and play-off phase don’t accurately match the structure of the real Ligue 1 games, and competitive play will be heads up rather than see teams of eleven facing each other.

Dominique Horn, EA general manager for France/Benelux, commented:

“For Electronic Arts, the creation of the e-LEAGUE 1 is a great opportunity to enhance our competitive gaming approach. The central idea is to live the competitive spirit to our players, from novice to the best of them.

Electronic Arts, and more particularly our FIFA franchise is also an opportunity to address a new audience enrolling in the lives of football fans. And our players a unique chance to make history representing their favorite club.”

Some French teams are developing an individual esports strategy

All 20 Ligue 1 teams are taking part in the championship, but some are delving deeper into esports.

At the beginning of October, the Paris St Germain club partnered with Webedia to develop its own esports team.

Director of Merchandising and Diversification Fabien Allegre said at the time:

“The arrival of Paris Saint-Germain in the eSports world is a historic moment for the club. It is part of a project led for five years by our president Nasser Al-Khelaifi to develop an international leading brand.

We enter this sector with great ambition and look forward to include our Red & Blue teams in the history of these new disciplines. Webedia emerged as the best partner to achieve this historic launch.”

Paris St Germain is listed by Forbes as the thirteenth most valuable soccer club in the world, with an enterprise value of $814 million.

A French TV report suggested that the team had invested around $21 million in its esports venture, but subsequently the figure was challenged.

In a Reddit AMA PSG Esports said that it had a “decent” budget, but nothing like that big:

“20 millions euros? We wouldn’t want to run all the EU LCS teams. 🙂 We never gave any number to anyone, but well this is far, far away from the truth. We have a pretty decent budget for an European League of Legends team, but we are as for now here to learn. Our main goal is to qualify for LCS.”

If the FIFA 17 competition proves to be successful, more French teams are likely to expand their interest.

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Ideal format for esports betting, but not in France

The e-Ligue 1 competition format looks to be ideal for betting, but in France the regulator ARJEL has not yet authorized esports betting. It is expected to do so in the not too distant future, having recently given its approval to daily fantasy sports (DFS).

For esports betting operators the possibility that other leagues may take the same approach could provide a major boost to the industry.

The NBA, NHL, UK Premier League, and others around the world may find the French approach will also work for them.

Only last week, the international soccer governing body which organizes the World Cup inserted esports into its long term strategy.

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) included a chapter on esports in its strategy publication, “FIFA 2.0: The Vision for the Future – a roadmap for the future of the organisation.”

All the world’s national soccer associations are members of FIFA, so the French experience over the coming season may have a big impact on what approach FIFA adopts towards esports.

And that will influence national leagues around the world.

Image credit: Ugis Riba / Shutterstock.com

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Joss Wood

Joss Wood holds an English degree from the University of Birmingham and also earned a master’s degree in organizational development from the University of Manchester. Joss has a special focus on the international online gambling market, though he also writes extensively on US regulated markets, sports betting, and esports betting.

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