Foxsports makes play for e-sports market with brand tie up

James McGrath
By James McGrath | 20 March 2015

Foxsports is set to “blur the line” between e-sports and real life with a live broadcast of a FIFA15 tournament, only made possible because of a suite of five brands coming together.

A partnership between Foxsports, Playstation, Westfield, EA Games and Football Federation Australia has been formed to put on FIFA 15 tournament, played on Playstation 4 consoles, with the final to be broadcast live.

The final will be the first time a live video game session will be broadcast on Australian TV, and while other brands have come knocking since the launch of the tournament, the five brands will have first crack at the emerging market of e-sports players.

Dubbed the 'Fox Fans League', the month-long tournament around the country in Westfield shoping centres will be held to find the best FIFA 15 player in the land, with a final to be played at Federation Square on 29 April.

The final three matches of the tournament (semi-finals and final) will be broadcast live on Foxsports, with football commentators Simon Hill and Andy Harper calling the action as part of an hour-long live program to be held in prime time.

“It definitely blurs the line between real sports and e-sports, and that's something that we're quite excited with,” Foxsports' acquisitions and integration manager Adam Howarth told AdNews.

It started with a flash of inspiration from Foxsports' CEO, Patrick Delany.

According to Howarth, he “burst into the office” and declared Foxsports simply must find a way to get into the e-sports space.

Howarth knew that this would become more than just a thought-bubble, but the speed of idea to action was mind-blowing.

“Before I know it, he's on the phone to the head of Sony, he's on the phone to the guy who runs EA. My head is spinning, and before I know it I'm in a room with Playstation, EA, and us,” Howarth said

“That's a hell of a start.”

All the parties have existing partnership with football in Australia.

Foxsports has broadcast the A-League for 10 years, Playstation holds the naming rights to the National Premier League, EA Sports holds the A-League licensing right for video games, and Westfield chief Frank Lowy and the Lowy family are on the board of Football Federation Australia.

“Their jaws kind of dropped when we presented the idea to them. It was perfect for them and for us, and it wasn't a difficult conversation to have. All of those guys have a vested interest in this,” Howarth said.

“Their brands get put front and centre across the Foxsports network for a couple of months. The conversation was a very easy one to have.”

It was also an easy sell to Football Federation Australia.

“The next phone call was Patrick [Delany] speaking to David Gallop,” Howarth said.

“He [Gallop] said 'what's that Patrick? You want to help us grow football and put us front and centre, putting on a live final in the week leading into the A-League finals? Yep, we're on board'.”

The tournament and subsequent broadcast has only been made possible because all the brands involved are pulling in the same direction.

“You can find a 100 different examples of this sort of multi-partner deal, but all those partners will start to clamour and scratch for visibility for their brand, they may have different objectives," Howarth said. "This is something where they have distinct roles, and they all have the same sort of objective."

Howarth sees the benefits to all parties in two main branches. First of all, they get to get out in front of a young, tech-savvy demographic.

“E-Sports as a genre is absolutely massive. I had absolutely no clue how massive it was until I started on this project,” Howarth said.

“I remember seeing video of a football stadium in Korea full, not to see a football match, but to see two people play a video game.

“That's definitely a 'whoa' moment.”

The more Howarth and the team at Foxsports looked into it, the more they saw a massive, emerging market that the partners could get their messages to.

“This is a young, tech-savvy audience we haven't really talked to before,” Howarth said.

Secondly, it would help grow the domestic game.

Football in Australia has always been divided into two clans: those engaged with the domestic game, and those squarely focused on the big-money leagues of Europe.

While many FIFA15 players elect to use teams based in the glamorous leagues of Europe, players will have to use teams made up of A-League players for the tournament, with real-life A-League players making appearances at the qualifying tournaments around the country.

The partners, who have all made investments into local football as a product, are hoping to grow the sport.

“We still think there's a latent audience there that is engaged with football, and not necessarily the A-League,” Howarth said.

“The league itself has taken enormous steps in closing that gap, but we think this is one more way we can engage those fans with the domestic product.”

It's been roughly 48 hours since the tournament was announced, and already more brands have come knocking to try and get involved.

“We've definitely had a few calls, but it's not a focus for us at the moment,” Howarth said.

“We're bedded down with the partners we have but those discussions may go ahead as we go forward. But this isn't a project we started with the intention of attaching a massive brand to it.

“It's not a massive priority for us. This is an exercise in trying to grow football and execute an Australian first.”

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