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Gastelum: ‘FIFA’ brings soccer popularity (Oct. 26)

By Andrew Gastelum | Thursday, October 25, 2012

A month ago yesterday, the future of soccer in America virtually became a reality. “FIFA 13” sold more than 350,000 copies on its North American release date last month.

And who says Americans don’t like soccer?

What started as yet another reminder of EA Sports’ dominance in the sports gaming industry has turned into a cultural phenomenon, becoming the video game of choice in college dorms across the country.

In a country where it sits far behind just about every other sport, soccer – the real football – is the second most popular sport among 18 to 24 year-old Americans, according to the most recent ESPN Sports Poll. That’s us folks, and what we have done by simply purchasing a copy of the nectar of the gaming gods or taking your friend up on a FIFA challenge is start a revolution that will surely affect the future of the sport.

The FIFA franchise holds an interestingly unique position in the vast American gaming culture. It’s just not like the “Madden,” “NCAA,” “NHL” or “NBA Live” franchises. Rather than further promote a league as an extension of the sport’s success like other sports video games, “FIFA” is where it all starts. If you are a college football fan, chances are you’ll purchase “NCAA Football 13.” But with “FIFA,” it’s the exact opposite effect.

“FIFA” makes soccer fans, not the other way around.

Manchester City fans in the U.S. make the despicable choice of becoming City fans in real life because they handle their roommate’s business on a consistent basis with said squad before class in the morning. Barcelona fans in the U.S. make the annoying run-of-the-mill choice of being Barca fans in real life because a team full of all-stars will flatten any five-star team on the PS3. And Brazil fans, well there are none in the U.S. because no one likes to be that guy who picked Brazil in “FIFA.”

With each new addition of “FIFA,” soccer in America becomes that much more popular among casual sports fans, which in turn raises awareness of the sport and its global superstars. Stars like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Landon Donovan are becoming household names not just for their accomplishments across the pond, but because of their accomplishments in your living room with your fingertips at the helm.

Whether it’s cursing at the screen for Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema to actually put away a goal for once in his lifetime – even though you are the one controlling him – or running the hallways following a tiebreaking goal in the 90th minute, it’s an enormous step closer to fruition for the sport and soccer fans in the United States.

And regardless of what critics of the sport may say, that’s what soccer in America needs: fans. The national team talent is there and continues to captivate us, the MLS improves steadily every year and the youth system is considered one of the best in the world. But the fans are last to come, and the “FIFA” franchise has surprisingly acted as the quintessential ambassador for the perfect age group.

The sport craves more American fans for soccer, both domestically and internationally. If you think it is impossible to build a soccer fan base in America, take a peek at Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers fan videos. It’s entirely possible, and who would’ve thought a video game would be the agent of cause?

Of course, the “FIFA” franchise gets by with a little help from its friends. Advertising this season’s installment of the game is Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz, up-and-coming rap superstar A$AP Rocky – whose highly anticipated debut album drops on Halloween – and a true soccer aficionado in Snoop Dogg (not Snoop Lion).

They join “FIFA 12” alumni in San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, Lakers point guard Steve Nash and Los Angeles Galaxy forward Landon Donovan. Snoop even made an appearance on the ESPN campus to promote “FIFA 13” on “SportsCenter” and “SportsNation,” among others, all while sporting a customized Spain national team jersey.

If Americans see their favorite athletes and rappers playing “FIFA,” they would want to also, right? Seems fair enough, but the real advertisement has come free-of-charge straight from our dorm rooms.

Whether you see the connection or not, we could be an essential part of the boom of soccer in America simply by choosing to rip some poor soul to shreds with PSG and procrastinating our homework for another hour (I like to justify this by setting the announcers to Spanish, that way I’m learning something and I feel better about my life choices).

So if you would like to take part in the revolution before it becomes the new fad, my email is below. Click the send button at your own peril.

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer