Can FIFA Show The Way For Traditional Sports To Take Advantage Of Esports?

Posted By Joss Wood on October 19, 2016 - Last Updated on January 22, 2018

[toc]The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has 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.”

The document is available in PDF format here.

The Vision for the Future strategy document states that:

“To investigate the benefits and feasibility of expanding FIFA’s engagement in eSports, FIFA will commission a working group to consider its forward-looking strategy.”

While there is no detail as to what that will entail, the importance for the wider esports industry is that a major sports governing body accepts the importance of esports and feels that it is necessary to include it in its strategy.

FIFA is the governing body for association football—soccer, and takes responsibility for organizing the World Cup.

It has 211 national associations as members; the United Nations only has 193 members, so FIFA is one of the few sports governing bodies that can be said to be truly global.

FIFA already benefits from esports

FIFA has a license agreement with EA which has developed the FIFA game for Xbox and Playstation consoles. The game is in its 17th edition and was updated yesterday, Oct. 18.

FIFA’s royalties from the relationship with EA have been substantial, but they are dwarfed by its other income from TV broadcasting rights.

In 2015, FIFA broadcast revenues were $628.5 million, revenues from licensing were $11.8 million.

Every four years, the World Cup provides a major boost to revenues. The Brazil event in 2014 lifted FIFA revenues by $4.8 billion, more than double the 2010 event’s $2.2 billion.

FIFA sees the EA FIFA game as having the potential to increase those revenues further:

“As this relationship produces revenue to support FIFA’s development programmes and competitions, the FIFA franchise has also contributed greatly to the organisation’s ability to remain relevant and visible in between FIFA World Cups™.

In 2004, the FIFA launched the FIFA Interactive World Cup, a competition featuring the world’s top FIFA gamers.”

At the last FIFA Interactive World Cup (FIWC) in March this year, more than 2.3 million players participated in the event. The final took place in New York with $25,000 in prize money up for grabs.

The FIWC for 2017 will provide the winner with $200,000 and a trip to the FIFA annual football awards ceremony. The strategy document explains FIFA’s belief about the opportunity that such growth presents:

“As the world of gaming expands, FIFA has a tremendous opportunity to mimic the production of global events on the pitch with enhanced production of virtual FIFA competitions.”

Other sports have the opportunity to replicate FIFA’s esports relationship

FIFA has two advantages over other sports when it comes to taking advantage of esports.

Firstly, soccer is the world’s most popular sport, and secondly, the EA FIFA game has been very successful. Metacritic currently lists FIFA17 as the 54th most popular game by average of reviewer scores.

However, other sports are not far behind. Basketball is rapidly catching up on soccer, and may well soon become the most popular sport in the world.

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Basketball also has a popular video game in NBA 2K17, the latest version of which was released in September. Metacritic lists NBA 2K17 as the third most popular game of 2016.

Major League Baseball is more geographically limited to the US in popularity, but it too has a very successful video game in the form of MLB The Show 16, which came out in March. MLB The Show 16 is the 11th version of the game to be released.

MLB was developed by Sony, and NBA2K17 by California developer Visual Concepts.

The opportunities for synergy between a traditional sport and its video game version are highlighted by FIFA’s experience, but the full potential of such synergies has not yet been exploited by other video game producers and sports governing bodies.

While the esports industry remains in its infancy, it’s difficult to see how and in what direction it will develop. Nonetheless, it seems fair to predict that traditional sports governing bodies and the most successful producers of that sport’s video game are likely to develop closer links over the next few years.

If they do, esports betting is likely to be a winner by association.

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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