BT Sport and Gfinity agree partnership for esport-reality show hybrid

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As live sports coverage continues to be spotty and networks seek new content to show viewers, esports remain the go-to offering. In need of content to show sports starved fans, British sports network BT Sport has agreed to broadcast a series of esports programs through a new partnership with Gfinity.

BT Sport’s program, the FIFA Challenge, will be different than esports content available from both ESPN in North America and Sky Sports in the United Kingdom. Britain’s No. 2 sports network will show “a series of celebrity led sports” programs, according to the Guardian. It is the latest esports entry into mainstream culture and once again shows that major television networks are focusing on competitive video game competitions with traditional sports content unavailable.

The FIFA Challenge series will be more like a hybrid of esports and reality television rather than a true esports tournament. Four teams will compete with ex-Premier League footballers Robbie Savage and Joe Cole, former Rugby player Ugo Monye, and current Fulham ladies striker/singer Chelcee Grimes all captaining a FIFA team. The series will be a five-part series with the final taking place on June 5.

FIFA Challenge will begin on Friday, May 15 with each of the five episodes lasting one hour. The first episode could make or break the FIFA Challenge with audiences not familiar with FIFA or gaming. Episode one will be a draft show, which could see numbers lacking in the overall ratings. The show will feature a number of other BT Sport television personalities taking part in the matches. Gfinity and FIFA makers EA Sport recently teamed up for the ePremier League Invitational tournament. It was a success and the same will be expected of FIFA Challenge.

On the surface, the deal between BT Sport and Gfinity looks like another esports coup. However, the problem with the series is it doesn’t look likely that professional FIFA gamers will be participating. If there are, it has not been announced thus far.

The show appears to be more of a reality series featuring the network’s presenters and current/ex-sports stars playing FIFA. BT Sport’s decision to go with a celebrity/athlete-led group of gamers shows that the channel’s executives are banking on the drawing power of these individuals over pro FIFA gamers. The target market audience is then very different than the esports gaming community most competitions would appeal to.

“Lockdown has meant that we have been looking at new content and formats to give our viewers their sport fix while there is no live sport,” said Jamie Hinghaugh, BT Sport’s chief operating officer.

The FIFA Challenge will only run until early June just in time for the potential return of the Premier League. BT Sport has rights to show Premier League matches along with games from Germany’s Bundesliga. On Saturday, May 16, the channel will begin airing games from Germany once more following the league’s COVID-19 hiatus being ended.

The agreement between Gfinity and BT Sport will leverage the former’s expertise in gaming production and the latter’s industry-leading technology in remote production. The combination of the two groups expertise areas is capable of producing a high-quality series.

With BT Sport still new to the esports world, it is likely that the FIFA Challenge is a mere test. If the show is successful, the sports network could delve further into the world of esports with more time to create unique content.

Drew Farmer
Drew’s work has appeared on a variety of sports and travel websites. He is also a published author having written the sports/travel book Soccer Travels. A keen gamer now also trying his hand at writing about Esports!