Football: the beautiful (digital) game…?
Dwindling attendance at the gates of many football stadiums, continual rows surrounding corruption, and the continually-increasing price of season tickets, has seen football struggle in its appeal to the masses. Whereas it was once the favourite pastime of the working class man, football is moving further from his reach.
At least, it is in real-life. But, thankfully, there are other ways to enjoy the beautiful game – a digital trade-off that is not only a more affordable option, but one that’s definitely capturing the next generation’s interest. Is the future of football as we know it under threat?
Far from being a sport that’s slipping away from the man on the street, players – and bystanders – through such as FIFA 17, are flocking to the sport in droves.
Engagement is surely the epitome of any activity, and a recent tournament - the FIFA Interactive World Cup - attracted a worldwide audience of 5 million people, despite its virtual foundations and lack of (real-life) ‘superstar’ players. The event was shown in 100 countries, and inspired 40 million comments and interactions on social media.
It still featured sponsorship deals, well-known clubs, and international competition. Digital scans of footballing heroes make them appear as real as possible in a virtual world. The YouTube generation is starting to favour eSports over the real thing.
And though EA Sports, the makers of FIFA 17, normally lag behind huge gaming titles, like Call of Duty, the introduction of the company’s Competitive Gaming Division has levelled the playing field (pardon the pun). Their task, to arrange official worldwide tournaments with huge prize pots, is not only attracting gamers, but also real football clubs - the advertising and merchandise revenue opportunities being no less of a draw in the digital game.
Premier League executive chairman, Richard Scudamore, believes digital football and social media could threaten the enthusiasm of youngsters for the sport. He said, “I see young people spending time on their devices. Anything that’s entertaining them is an obstacle, which is why community-based and interactive-based activities are so important.”
Even television is catching on to digi-footy. Bidding huge figures to gain exclusivity for certain games and/or competitions, there’s a lot of money floating around TV networks for football. Perhaps acknowledging the rise in popularity of eSports in general, Sky is in talks with Ginx ESports TV about airing tournaments and original content on a 24-hour basis. A 2016 Deloitte study predicted that global revenue from eSports will rise by 25% this year, to $500m (£353m). The audience for such a TV channel could reach 150 million people worldwide.
Not everyone thinks online and offline football gaming are competing, however. Joe Smith, a senior strategist at 101 London, believes that FIFA 17 offers “a different kind of football game for a different kind of fan.”
Perhaps it is wrong to compare the two. Young gamers have probably never trekked from ground to ground to worship the left foot of some upcoming footy star. Older football fans will probably never visit an e-sports convention, nor understand how thrilling it can be to cheer on a ten-inch digitalised version of their hero. But, at their most basic level, both audiences do have one thing in common: a passion for watching eleven men chase a ball round a field.