Why FIFA 23 inclusion is bigger than any broadcast deal for the FA WSL 🎮
In the first three months of the year, a record 15.1m people watched women's sport in the UK – with the FA Women’s Super League accounting for 58% of this viewership. This research, which was conducted by The Women's Sport Trust, also found that the average viewer was tuning in for 54 minutes more than last year. These figures, Women's Sport Trust CEO Tammy Parlour believes, “validate the commitment that UK broadcasters are making” and supports the view that “if women's sport is made visible, then audiences will watch." Now, that visibility is about to get a whole lot bigger.
Image: EuroGamer/ EA Sports - FIFA 23
EA Sports has announced the inclusion of women’s club football teams in FIFA 23 – a first for the series. That’s right. The FA WSL (as well as the French Division 1 Féminine) will feature on the game, alongside international women’s teams. EA has said they plan to add more leagues in the future, too. There will also be a woman on the global cover for the first time ever as Chelsea’s Sam Kerr joins PSG’s Kylian Mbappé. This is a big deal. Until now, female players had only featured on regional covers. Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair featured alongside Lionel Messi on the U.S. and Canadian editions of FIFA 16, respectively. That was the year that women’s football was first made available within the FIFA franchise – but only included a limited selection of international teams. This was increased to 17 countries for last year’s FIFA 22. These still limited provisions meant that few game players have bothered to utilise this feature yet. Statistics suggest that fewer than 4% of FIFA 22 players have played a women's match. With Kerr on the front cover of the 325m-selling series and women’s teams now available at club level, there is an expectation that this is about to change.
Image: PlayStation / FIFA 23
FIFA is the main way that many football fans engage with the sport. Having the best players, clubs, and tournaments provides the women’s game a whole lot more visibility and opportunity to engage. As a series, the figures for FIFA are pretty incredible. EA reported that after one month of the official launch last year, 5 billion goals had already been scored, players had competed in 2.1 billion matches and spent 12 billion minutes on the field. An average of 89 million matches were played every day. Fast forward a few months (two, to be precise) and EA announced that over 9 million players had now played FIFA 22. That’s 9 million users that, if similar figures are matched this year, would now be exposed to Kerr and the FA WSL via the game’s cover, intros, and loading screens. This is far more extensive than being simply one of over 30 leagues for players to select from in kick-off mode. It gets even better... Another important factor to consider is the demographic that being included in FIFA allows leagues like the FA WSL to reach. It’s fair to assume that FIFA players skew young. Approx. 25% of FIFA players are in the U.S. and 59% of all U.S. gamers are aged 34 and under. According to YouGov's recent report, 44% of global sports fans aged 18-24 prefer watching women's sport over men's vs only 16% of global sports followers aged over 55. This means that unlike with traditional TV broadcast deals that have been struck by women’s sports execs up until now (which reach an average viewer aged 50+), the sport is able to get in front of a younger and more receptive audience. This also provides the opportunity to both inspire young girls and normalise their pursuit of professional sport among their male peers (an equally important factor). Representation is the only way to make sure that girls who grow up and develop an interest in sport don’t always feel “out of place,” like Khushi Bhinde did when she was younger - something she explains this in her recent opinion piece for The Trivela Effect.
Image: Goal.com/ Sam Kerr
It is not just EA who recognise this. Earlier this month, 2K Games announced NBA2k23 WNBA Edition. Sports Interactive is also in the process of including women’s leagues within Football Manager.
There is still a lot of developments to be made by EA (such as the inclusion of more game modes, leagues, clubs, and teams) and everyone else, but this feels a significant step in the right direction.
The timing – off the back of the Women’s EUROs and in the lead up to a Women’s World Cup year couldn’t be better either.
I am all for it.