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Fresh off a historic Champions League win, global soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo will now be the cover player for FIFA 18 — and that could help EA get more copies of its sports game into players’ hands.

Ronaldo is considered the best in the sport, and he’s been the highest-paid footballer four years in a row. His enormous social reach of 262 million followers on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram has made him especially attractive to marketing partnerships, leading Nike to signing a $1 billion lifetime deal with him in a move that Forbes called a “bargain,” as Nike could make back the investment in only two or three years.

FIFA previously featured fellow global soccer icon Lionel Messi, but that contract has since lapsed since FIFA 16. Fans voted on FIFA 17’s cover player, Marco Reus, who is popular and has competed on the national German team in the World Cup. However, Reus’s renown is nowhere near that of Messi’s or Ronaldo’s, which likely affected the boost EA got from him.

“Depending on the popularity of a player, a famous athlete can help improve sales by about 10 percent,” says Joost van Dreunen, CEO of market researcher SuperData. “Suffice to say that signing an athlete is critical, especially because the audience for sports games tends to be more-or-less stable.”

The FIFA franchise has been a consistent success for EA, contributing significantly to its reported adjusted revenue of $1.092 billion last year. Not only is the franchise more than 21 million fans strong, but in an interview with GamesBeat, EA’s senior vice president Todd Sitrin estimated that tens of millions of fans participate in its FIFA and Madden NFL esports tournaments. Now with Ronaldo as the cover player, EA is hoping for a huge lift to FIFA 18’s sales, making the franchise even more valuable for publishing giant.

EA Access and Origin Access members will get a first look at FIFA 18 on September 21 with 10 hours of gameplay through their subscriptions. Fans who pre-order though fans who pre-order the “Ronaldo Edition” of the game will be able to play the full game on September 26, and it will be available worldwide on September 29 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.


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