Celebrity endorsements are a time-honored phenomenon seen across several industries, but most notably in gaming. It is hard to believe there was once a time where goods and services did not have celebrities’ name rights in the titles, but alas, all things have to start somewhere, and in the case of celebrity-endorsed games, it started in the 1980s after Atari, Inc. released its game Pele’s Soccer. The 1981 sports game based on the Brazilian World Cup winner ignited the licensing trend we have seen gain traction in the gaming industry in the years since its release.
Sports gaming has evolved drastically since the 1980s, moving from arcade games and console games like FIFA to, most recently, fantasy leagues, as well as betting as fans look for more ways to interact with the sports they love. The growth in this area has led to increased demand for predictions and picks on upcoming games and online sports betting guides, so that consumers are able to browse through the best options for them.
This gaming evolution may not have occurred if Atari did not release Pele’s Soccer in 1981, though. Not only did the game illustrate the possibilities of the sports gaming industry, but it also introduced the concept of celebrity-endorsed games. This concept has driven the income of athletes higher (in 1984, Mark McCormack said players need additional sources of revenue to stay afloat once their playing days are over), and the sports marketing industry, which, in North America alone, is expected to increase to $83.1 billion by 2023.
The History Of Celebrity-Endorsed Sports Games
In 1978, Atari, Inc. released Atari Football, an American football video game released for arcades and the Atari 2600 console. Today, Atari Football is considered the first video game to accurately depict the game, even though Xs and Os represent the players. A few years later, Atari released Pele’s Soccer, and while primitive, it was the first time a celebrity — and one of Pele’s extreme global status — had endorsed a video game.
The game’s success led to many other soccer video games named after legendary players and acted as a timestamp for where the game was at when the game was released. In 1988, Audiogenic Software Ltd. released Emlyn Hughes International Soccer, a computer game named after Liverpool FC’s first captain to lift the European Cup. Shortly after, more celebrity-endorsed soccer video games followed, including LiveMedia’s 2000 release of O’Leary Manager, a player-manager game named after Arsenal legend David O’Leary, and PlayStation’s Chris Kamara’s Street Soccer, released in 2000.
Since the 1980s, we have seen many celebrity-endorsed sports games, notably the Tony Hawk skateboarding video game series, which started in 1999 with Activision’s release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. The Tony Hawk series became one of the most successful sports game franchises, but that is not to say every celebrity-endorsed game has been good. In fact, many that were supposed to be long-standing franchises only became one-off titles due to a lack of public interest. Either way, however, none of these games would have seen the surface had Atari not released Pele’s Soccer and become a pioneer in the industry.