Growing up in a soccer-crazed family, I was introduced to the game at an incredibly young and impressionable age. Born right-footed, my grandfather used to take me outside and force me to kick with my left for hours until my weakness became a strength. However, while I was practicing set pieces in my backyard, my friends were generally shooting a basketball around or throwing a football. Don’t get me wrong; soccer was an incredibly popular sport at my local elementary school, with intense pick-up games happening seemingly every other day. But at the end of the day, it always took the backseat to the more traditionally “American” sports that could be watched at almost any time of the day with one or two clicks of the TV remote. While my friends would discuss the latest Lakers or Dodgers game, I was watching video of Hernán Crespo, Lilian Thuram, and Pavel Nedved.
However, despite the fact that nearly 100,000 less children are actively playing soccer in the United States (compared to 2008), it appears as though the majority of my close friends have become increasingly more knowledgeable about the game itself and some of its star players. The question is, “what factor has accounted for this increased knowledge?” The answer is very simple. The FIFA video game series. Each year, FIFA releases a slightly modified and newer version of the game, with new kits, updated squads and polished features. In playing the game, our youth has been unconsciously introduced to some of the game’s biggest stars and teams that do not receive quite the same level of press as the Manchester United or Real Madrid’s of the soccer world. You must not only select your team before playing, but you must alter the lineup and discover for yourself what tactics prove to be successful and what just doesn’t work. In the process, individuals begin to discover their favorite team, players and maybe even league. Additionally, FIFA has made a concerted effort to appeal to the wider American audience by approaching several American celebrities and athletes who don’t regularly brand themselves as soccer fans. From Snoop Dogg to Steve Nash, FIFA has widened its reach over the American public. Total unit sales of the series in the U.S. topped five million over the past two years, according to market research firm NPD. This 35% jump in unit sales has closed the gap between FIFA and its biggest North American competition – Madden NFL and NBA 2K.
Most children in the United States have been exposed to professional football, basketball or baseball on TV before they even purchase one of those sports’ video games. FIFA on the other hand has allowed millions of these previously uninformed individuals to fall in love with the game of soccer. Gamers play FIFA, and instantly, they start to identify each team’s stars. The FIFA video game series has enabled millions and millions of American gamers to not only gain a deeper understanding and awareness of the game and its prized players.