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commercial marketing USL Championship

The USL Championship in talks with EA and Konami

MIAMI, Fla. (2 May 2020) – The United Soccer League is in talks with both Electronic Arts (“EA Sports”) and Konami, about being included in an upcoming edition of at least one of these company’s games.

Whether the USL will be “in the game” with EA Sports FIFA series or “playing is believing” in Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer (“PES”) is not yet decided. USL executive vice president Court Jeske confirmed news of the discussions to The Athletic last week, saying the league has spoken with both EA Sports and Konami. According to league officials, being included in one of these games is considered yet another milestone in the process of enhancing building its name both in the U.S. and around the world. By analogy, Major League Soccer’s inclusion in the FIFA series has done much to grow awareness and interest in the league in a similar manner. However, negotiations are only at the beginning and no terms of an agreement have yet been worked out.

“Certainly the people at Konami have been very interested, given their aggressive approach to North America and the aggressive approach that they take with club soccer versus the national team. We’ll see where the conversations go. We’re open to continuing the discussions as soon as we can.”

Court Jeske, USL Executive VP
USL exists in Football Manager 2020

Another popular simulation of the game, Football Manager (“FM”), by Sports Interactive, includes the USL in the series; however, the U.S.’s second and third divisions are not playable in the game as purchased. The deafult version of FM allows users to pay transfer fees for USL players, resulting in far more USL Championship or League One players making the jump to MLS than in the real world. There is a work around for fans who want to manage a USL team in FM, by downloading one of many third-party database edits, for example, one that adds the USL Championship, Leagues One and Two to the game, and another by a different creator that adds the Canadian Premier League and other Canadian leagues to the game as playable teams.

eUSL Cup Starts May 4

Starting today, the USL will be playing the eUSL Cup using the EA Sports FIFA20 platform, where USL players will team up with select fans and compete in a month-long tournament using national teams of certain contries. The Miami FC, for example, will play as England, while Phoenix Rising will play as the Netherlands. and Louisville City as Wales.

More information is available here.

Enhancing the league’s profile has been a marketing priority. “Over the last year and a half, we’ve prioritized it,” Jeske said. “The strategy started with our deal with ESPN for three years. We wanted to spread the USL message internationally. The next space for us to focus on is to find a partnership in the soccer gaming space.”

Apparently it is already too late for the USL Championship to be included in the 2021 versions of these two video games, which traditionally are released in the fall each year. With research and production having a long lead time, and developers needing time to code the league into the game, Jeske said there’s almost no chance the league will be in a game next year. 2022 or beyond is likely to be the year the USL is included. However, by all accounts the interest from the game developers is mutual.

Beyond the time required to research and include a league into one of these video games, external factors also play a role. Both Sony and Microsoft will soon be transitioning to the ninth generation of home video game consoles, retiring the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, respectively. From a cost of production perspective, it may make better sense to wait for the new replacement consoles to enter the market before adding new leagues.

Whether fans will see the USL Championship enter EA Sports or Konami’s games is also dependent on other factors. For example, physical discs can only hold so much data, forcing the developer to prioritize certain upgrades over others. In the case of the FIFA series, microtransaction-heavy FIFA Ultimate Team mode has taken precedence for years. Also, the addition of not only a league but also stadiums takes up space. There are many first divisions around the world that still are not featured in the FIFA series in countries where football is the major sport.

Jeske went on to say that USL would want to begin with an exclusive partner instead of trying to have both EA Sports and Konami try to implement the league, in order to allow the USL to ensure its video game debut has its full attention to detail. “I think we start with one, and then grow from there,” Jeske said.

Konami celebrates 25 years

2020 marks 25 years (1995) since the ‘eFootball PES’ franchise made its debut in 19 95 as ‘J.League Jikkyou Winning Eleven’ on the original PlayStation console. The Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) franchise kicked off in 2001 (branded in the US as World Soccer: Winning Eleven) before merging its European and American brands under the PES umbrella in 2007.

I still remember spending hours with PES6, both the PC and Playstation editions. As is still true to this day, on sites such as PES-Patch and elsewhere, there are “mods” or patches that can be downloaded and installed in the game to allow you to have licensed teams instead of the generic ones. One of my favourite such modification from the PES6 game was a patch that installed characters from the Japanese anime soccer series “Captain Tsubasa,” including the famous Kjiro Hyuga.

The PES series has sold over 107.4 million copies, plus over 200 million downloads of its mobile version — one of just 21 video game franchises to clear the 100 million copy milestone.

For the most part, eFootball PES 2020 offers up a faithful replication of the beautiful game. It’s easily the most realistic PES to date

Gamesradar

An inability to compete with the FIFA series on the licensing front for the rights to major club and international leagues, teams and competitions has been the main knock against PES among fans of football games. But through partnerships with FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United, Konami has elevated its game. More recently, exclusive agreements with Juventus, Brasileirão Serie A, Boca Juniors, Euro 2020 and others have also provided a boost. On the dosnside, this year, Konami lost the exclusive license for the UEFA Champions League to EA Sports.

USL’s Jeske said that if the league would not want to negotiate a deal where only some of its teams are licensed. “I think there’s certainly a validation point when your game is properly and fully recognized within a (video) game,” Jeske said. “One of the things we’ve talked about is not wanting to do a partial integration. If we go in, when USL is presented in one of these game experiences, we want to ensure that it’s our players, our stadiums, to fully capture the spirit of the league.” Any partnership with Konami (or EA Sports) would thus likely hinge on assuring that intellectual property like players, venues and team licensing are universally adopted. 

USL’s attraction in the eyes of the game developers lies in the fact that the league the sole source of professional soccer in many major cities around the US, including places such as San Diego, Tampa, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and with exapansion coming to Queens (NYC) there are opportunities to sell more games with the league included. “That’s where they’re going to start in terms of looking for a return on investment.”

For those of you who would like to get playing and don’t already own one of these video games, here is a review of each:

Cover Photo: PES2020 Konami Digital Entertainment

By Ken Russo

My work in the business of soccer applies skills acquired in law practice with a focus on the sport's commercial, communications and sporting components. Russo Soccer aims to inform, educate and engage in dialogue on news and relevant issues in the game.

Um advogado por formação, concentro meu trabalho nos negócios, comunicações e operações de equipes no futebol mundial. | Abogado con fundación avanzada en comunicaciones, enfocado en los negocios del fútbol y las comunicaciones. | Je suis un avocat experimenté dans les affaires de football.

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