The Washington Times - December 3, 2009, 05:20PM

With the FIFA World Cup draw Friday, I had the chance to speak with the man in charge of the world’s most popular soccer video game, the FIFA Soccer franchise from EA Sports. Sam Cooper is the Global Product Manager for FIFA Soccer with EA Sports, and offered some good insights into how the video game has grown in popularity in America, suggesting the fan base for soccer in the United States. is larger than some people believe.
North America is the #2 market for the EA Sports FIFA game, the latest version of which is known as FIFA 10. (The United Kingdom is still #1.) According to EA Sports, Americans play the EA Sports game online 741,900 times each day on average, making it the company’s number four game behind Madden NFL, Tiger Woods and NCAA Football. And with the World Cup in South Africa coming up next year, this is the time when EA Sports hopes to cash in on interest in soccer worldwide and especially in the United States and Canada.
 “It’s a key event, and it’s really an opportunity for the sport to come to the forefront in North America,” Cooper said. “From EA Sports perspective, we’ve really been gearing up for this year because we know it’s the one opportunity for the average North American fan to really engage with the sport.”
It’s no secret that aside from a relatively modest core fan base, soccer really on resonates with Americans every four years when all of the world’s best teams compete. But Cooper said sales figures for the FIFA game suggest the love of soccer in the U.S. is quite large. Sales of the FIFA game have nearly tripled since the 2002 World Cup, when the U.S. made a surprising berth into the quarterfinals.
“We have seen the sales of products and all the key metrics really increasingly dramatically, and I think that reflects interest in the sport,” Cooper said. “The sport is definitely growing. I work in a global capacity and a lot of people around the world are always a little bit surprised at the North American an the U.S. market in particular are so big.”
Cooper, who is British, said there is a hope by EA Sports that the U.S. will do well in the upcoming World Cup, as it will only help to grow the sport and sales of the FIFA game.
“If the U.S. can get a couple wins under its belt early, it will set a great trend for the tournament,” Cooper said. “A lot of people in the industry are a bit concerned that the games being in South Africa will make it harder for viewers to get engaged, but it really depend on how the country performs. If players like Landon [Donovan] and others get some performances together, I think it feels like we’re close to a threshold where people in the U.S. wake up and realize the World Cup is massive.”