Paul Rayment, a strategist at football-focused content creators Footballco (the parent company of Goal), reflects on how the media company has gone about activating gaming partnerships for the last half a decade.
Modern football has never just been about what happens on the pitch. Instead, it bleeds into pop culture and is reflected in music, fashion and all forms of entertainment – including gaming. For many young fans, the two are almost inseparable. Through our own research, we know that almost 80% of Goal fans play video games regularly and it’s because of this that we’ve placed a great deal of importance on integrating Goal with the games fans play.
As someone who has gamed since the early 80s, I’ve seen my share of great and not-so-great brand integrations. Perhaps the strongest was Red Bull in Wipeout in 1996. It was the perfect brand for a high-energy futuristic racing game and it didn’t look out of place on the in-game billboards.
Compare and contrast that with Monster Energy drink in the more recent Death Stranding – a move Polygon called “product placement at its most sensational and incoherent” and that shows that energy drinks don’t work for every game.
For Goal, the seamless merger of brand and game guided our strategy. It was never about being everywhere, it was about being authentic and targeted. When I started working on Goal, Fifa 15 was the current instalment in EA Sports’ franchise. Coincidentally, it was also the first time that Goal had appeared in games.
Back then, our RSS feeds powered the game’s Match Day Live menus, providing fans with real-world football news inside of the game. Since then, the Goal brand has appeared in Fifa on ad-boards in numerous LATAM countries, Goal esports video content has featured in the in-game video player and, for Fifa 19, Goal supplied a Squad Battle for Fifa Ultimate Team based around that year’s NXGN list and its winner Jadon Sancho.
Choosing to work with EA to incorporate Goal into Fifa made sense due to its position in the space and the audience it reached. But in both cases, we were also sure both our esports video content and Squad Battle submission provided editorial value for EA and players alike.
But while the brand is important, we wanted to ensure that fans experienced Goal just how they do in real life. This is important to those who play games too – gaming is about immersion and we don’t want to ruin that with a jarring experience.
Early on during my time working on Goal, I pinpointed the Football Manager game as somewhere Goal should be but wasn’t. It has a strong and dedicated fanbase that’s obsessive about football, but Goal wasn’t an in-game media outlet. This was soon rectified through reaching out to Sports Interactive, and as a fan myself I still find it humorous to be quizzed by Goal journalists about my many underperforming teams.
More recently, both Goal’s Goal 50 and NXGN awards have found their way into Football Manager 2021, meaning aspiring managers can now see how their players rank in virtual representations of our annual lists for the best players.
While Goal and our awards feature in Football Manager, we wanted to take things further when we began working with Soccer Manager – it appealed to us because of the game’s strong performance in key Goal regions, but also because of the flexibility it allowed.
Among the many elements that make up this partnership is in-game ad-boards. While seeing the Goal brand surrounding the virtual pitch with the likes of Kappa and Lotto provides brand value, what we really like about working with Soccer Manager is the ability to change the boards during the season to reflect our annual editorial and awards calendar, with Goal 50 boards being swapped in during November and NXGN appearing around March.
Soccer Manager fans also experience Goal through the game’s news service, with the latest in-game transfer and match news coming from Goal branded alerts, just as they would in real life. Feedback for this has been positive, judging by the comments on social media and in the various app stores.
With all these activations we’ve seen impressive numbers in terms of brand exposure, but what’s also been important is that these exposures haven’t got in the way of what gamers have been trying to do, which is play the game. In many, they help to ground the virtual world in the real world.
Across some titles, we’ve seen the space getting more competitive. Where once we were the only brand or publisher involved, we’ve been joined by others and we don’t see this slowing any time soon. We’re always looking for new ways that Goal can be incorporated into the right games in new and genuine ways, and that means refusing some opportunities.
I was once offered the opportunity for Goal to appear in a new game that looked to reach a much-coveted demographic, but after researching the team behind it and the proposition, we declined. We didn’t believe that the game was premium enough to succeed or align with Goal’s standards. Months later, a barrage of negative reviews proved us right.
It would be wrong to say brands are waking up to gaming. Gaming isn’t new and neither is brand integration. Go back to 1984 and Anheuser-Busch had the Budweiser brand in the Tapper arcade game (a great placement).
What is changing is that more brands are aware of the role that gaming now plays in people’s lives and how it’s no longer a medium that’s subservient to film or music. For many demographics, it is the dominant form of entertainment.
With the rise of first social media platforms and then gaming-specific social platforms, we are witnessing the growth of a new area of media. This new media exists both in-game and out of game, and intersects with football and culture. For Goal, we see great opportunity to tap into these new intersectional communities to entertain and inform with content in new ways.