SBJ/September 26-October 2, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

EA Sports to North America: ‘Even if you don’t necessarily love soccer, ‘ you’ll still love new ‘FIFA 12’ game

EA Sports has developed a new marketing effort seeking to turn “FIFA 12,” its soccer video game franchise, into a major North American hit.

“FIFA” each year is by far the publisher’s biggest seller on a global scale, last year using the men’s World Cup as a launchpad to move an unprecedented sum of nearly 15 million combined physical and digital units of “FIFA 11.” The sales records included more than 2.6 million units and $150 million in revenue in the first week alone.

Soccer player Hope Solo takes on soccer lover Steve Nash in one “FIFA 12” spot.
No other sports video game has ever sold as quickly or so well overall, but the appeal and sales traffic for “FIFA” are firmly rooted in Europe. In the U.S., the title still trails well behind other top sports games such as “Madden NFL,” and 2K Sports’ “NBA 2K” series.

“We’re looking to shift the conversation a bit and tell people [in North America] that even if you don’t necessarily love soccer, you’ll still love ‘FIFA,’” said Jamie McKinlay, EA Sports senior director of global marketing.

“FIFA 12” will be released Tuesday.

EA Sports has developed several TV commercials and viral videos based around the tag line “United States of FIFA.” Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash and Los Angeles Galaxy forward Landon Donovan are starring in “FIFA” spots for a second straight year. They are joined this time by U.S. national team goalkeeper Hope Solo and San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum for a series of “FIFA”-based gaming competitions and trash talking.

The TV ads are also running more extensively on entertainment programs as opposed to just sports outlets. EA Sports debuted its “FIFA” advertising last week during a roast for actor Charlie Sheen on Comedy Central.

“We were too heavy in sports last year. The mix is better now, around 40 percent entertainment, 60 percent sports, where it was at least 30-70 last year,” McKinlay said. “This is going to give us more exposure around that more casual fan.”

EA Sports this week also is scheduled to conduct several retail store and media appearances in Los Angeles and New York involving Donovan and New York Red Bulls defender Rafa Marquez, each of whom appears on the game cover along with Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney.

Buttressing the game is the newly developed “EA Sports Football Club,” a free online social media-focused service that will look to forge a deeper link between real-world soccer and the game. For example, challenges will be issued on the service the morning after major real-world matches, inviting fans of the defeated team to avenge their loss in the video game realm.

EA executives declined to outline specific percentage changes in the “FIFA” marketing budget. Overall, marketing spending on the game is about the same as in prior years, but has been reallocated this time to focus more heavily on TV, social media and Hispanic-focused efforts.

Industry analysts are expecting EA Sports to continue with “FIFA 12” a recent run of momentum shown by improved initial sales for “NCAA Football 12,” “Madden NFL 12,” and “NHL 12.”

“Soccer certainly continues to grow more popular in the U.S., and overall, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this title improve [in sales] by 10 to 15 percent,” said Arvind Bhatia, video game industry analyst and managing director for brokerage firm Sterne, Agee & Leach.

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