Video games companies have been tapping into the extensive football fan base around the world for many years. Here’s a trip down memory lane and a look at some of the shirt sponsorship deals of past seasons.
Atari’s entry into the history of football club sponsorship is a little more complicated than most with the sudden rise and catastrophic fall of the games company linked to a similar swing in the fortunes of the North American Soccer League. Essentially Atari could be to blame for the collapse of the U.S. domestic game.
The Fall Of The North American Soccer League
In an article on atari.io posted by contributor ‘The Professor‘ in 2014 – the author appears to lay the blame for the demise of the U.S. domestic soccer league, back in the eighties, at the hands of gaming company Atari. It seems a bizarre statement on the surface of things, but is there truth in it?
The article explains the series of events that lead to the correlated demise of Atari and the NASL (North American Soccer League). The focus of events centres on Warner Communications founder Steve Ross. In the ’70s a group of entertainment moguls formed one of the first professional soccer teams in America – New York Cosmos.
Something of a hobby for Ross, and with huge investment, the club attracted and were able to sign some of the world’s most celebrated players at the time, most notable of which was Brazilian superstar Pelé, still regarded by many as the greatest player of all time. The team were hugely popular and enjoyed success for a decade from 1972 to 1982.
Pelé was the star of the New York Cosmos team and the North American Soccer League
With an astute business mind, Steve Ross had built a significant conglomerate of companies under the ‘Warner Communications’ umbrella that included Panavision, DC Comics, Warner Bros, Atlantic Records and Atari. Whilst these companies were making eye-watering profits, New York Cosmos would continue to benefit as Ross’s passion.
The decline of Atari is well publicised. Steve Ross wanted Hollywood legend, writer and director, Steven Spielberg to move from Universal to Warner to make films. To achieve this an absurd $25 million licensing agreement was made for the video game rights to ‘E.T.’ by Atari – which almost killed the company off when the game famously flopped – the fall-out is considered by many as the catalyst that crippled the video game market in the ’80s.
The extent of the Atari collapse is further reaching too. With confidence low in Warner Communications their stock price dropped substantially and with the company vulnerable to a take-over the decision was made to cut loose any parts of the conglomerate not generating a profit. New York Cosmos were an obvious ballast to shed.
The demise of the New York Cosmos and the North American Soccer League correlate. When Pelé retired from the game in 1977 no player of equal status existed to fill the void left by this talisman, leading to a decrease in media coverage and attractiveness to potential investors. With funding seriously reduced in the early ’80s, as Warner cut them loose, Cosmos were unable to retain or attract the big names of the sport. Without the star attractions the league lost its television deal. Fans no longer filled stadiums to catch a glimpse of their heroes and the NASL ceased to exist in 1984. New York Cosmos tried to continue with an independent schedule the following season but ultimately cancelled this and folded in 1985.
In essence then, Atari played a key role in the rise and fall of both New York Cosmos and the NASL, effectively, indirectly sponsoring both. Each has been reinvented to a degree. New York Cosmos returned to professional soccer in America in 2010 and the NASL re-emerged in 2009 as the second tier of the North American game, the MLS being the top division.
1999 – 2001 | Infogrames / Atari
Whilst Atari were indirectly involved in the NASL, the Atari logo did briefly appear on the shirts of French club Olympique Lyonnais, more commonly known simply as Lyon.
From 1999 Lyon were sponsored by Infogrames, a producer, publisher and distributor of interactive video games for all major console and computing platforms. The deal was a good fit as the company were local to the club being based in Lyon.
Lyon go head to head with Arsenal – Dreamcast vs Infogrames
In January 2001 Infogrames purchased Hasbro Interactive. With it came the Atari name and properties. By October 2001 the company announced that it was re-inventing the Atari brand. It appears that in the final year of the company’s sponsorship of Lyon the team wore shirts with both brands. Possibly with the Atari logo reserved only for Champions League fixtures, though I have not been able to substantiate this theory at this time.