The marketing partnership between football club Manchester City and games developer Electronic Arts (EA) is one with an unusual level of collaboration. The relationship is so deeply integrated into both businesses that EA now employs two people dedicated solely to producing content for the club using its software.
Examples include a virtual launch of the club’s kit for the current Premier League season, sported by a computer-generated Manchester City squad. And on the club’s signing of striker Samir Nasri, EA had already prepared an in-game image of the player scoring a goal wearing the team’s sky blue shirt, to the amusement of its fans and the chagrin of its rivals.
EA has fully motion-captured all the Manchester City players so that their game avatars’ appearances and movements are as life-like as possible. This has opened up a variety of possible uses for content created within EA’s latest FIFA 12 game software. According to Manchester City head of digital Richard Ayers, the club is working on ways in which this could be delivered via smartphones, for example using the personalised QR code and RFID chip included on each of its fans’ membership cards.
By scanning the QR code in Manchester City’s smart phone app, Ayers suggests that unique content could be ‘unlocked’, for example, player avatars created in FIFA 12, which could be swapped or played with like trading cards. The aim is to transport the fan’s relationship with both the EA and Manchester City brands out of the stadium or TV and into a more social setting.
He adds: “What we would really like to do is have interaction between the membership cards, because the phone’s sensor picks up multiple cards. What if that player is a trigger for exclusive content that only my membership card gets me? I can show my mates in the pub a selection of content that only I can access.”
The club is also exploring how data from the FIFA 12 game, including team and player statistics, could be used to simulate upcoming matches, or be put to other applications for entertainment purposes.
It is a concept Ayers calls “datatainment”, and is another aspect of the EA partnership that Manchester City is seeking to exploit in its efforts to become a “global entertainment brand”, he says.
For EA too, the partnership provides a platform on which to promote its games. According to EA football business lead Nick Harford, online players of FIFA 12 around the world choose to play matches both for and against Manchester City more than any other club or national team represented in the game.
As well as providing exposure for the game through the EA content that Manchester City pushes out, the club also hosts permanent installations at its Etihad stadium, set up by The Circle Agency, where fans can play FIFA 12 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles.
Harford says the partnership forms part of EA’s strategy to attract new consumers to play FIFA 12, with growth of the category being necessary since it owns a 96% share of the market. To do this, he says EA needs to be an integral part of Manchester City’s own expansion plans.
“It is about how EA Sports and FIFA as a product can be relevant in a business context – the way it works for fans, the way it works for players, the way it works for staff.”