EA Sports' FIFA 21 hopes to inspire young Asian soccer players and address the lack of their representation in the sport with a new U.K. spot that revolves around a Muslim grassroots league playing during Ramadan.
The spot, by Adam&Eve/DDB, is the winner of Channel 4's Diversity in Advertising competition this year, awarding it a million pounds of free airtime from the U.K. broadcaster. The competition's challenge this year was to authentically represent U.K. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) cultures in advertising.
The spot explores the Midnight Ramadan League, a Birmingham grassroots football team set-up to help those Muslim players who struggle to play during their Ramadan fast, with matches kicking-off after Iftar, the evening meal, and before Suhoor, the early morning meal. In it, we see a Muslim teenager eating and then praying with his family, including a soccer-mad younger female cousin before setting off for a game in the darkness. During the game, a tackle knocks him to the floor, we see his role model, Leicester City player Hamza Choudhury, lift him up off the pitch before taking the ball and scoring a goal as the action moves into video game graphics. The spot ends with the teenager returning home to have a kickabout with his cousin.
The ad was directed by Bassam Tariq at Pulse Films, himself a Muslim Asian director, and features a real family in their home, with the protagonist a real player for the League, rather than actors.
Selma Ahmed, senior creative at Adam & Eve/DDB, explains: "We had featured the Midnight Ramadan League in a FIFA ad about crews last year so we went back to them, and we got their founder on board for the pitch process which was incredible. What we love is that they really use the culture and their faith to play the game. There's something so good about championing a real team like that who are doing so much for their community."
Ahmed adds that Tariq's direction was key to the project as "it's so important that you portray people's communities authentically. He could build trust with the cast members and make it nuanced in all the right ways. It's equally important that we portrayed the Ramadan elements correctly as well as the football elements. "
Tariq commented in a statement: “Though the film has countless men running around the screen, it’s important to note that this spot was built from the ground up by Black and Brown women leading the charge -- both from EA Sports and from Adam&Eve. It was an honor to work with them and have these strong women as my guiding light. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever direct such an unapologetically Muslim commercial with my fellow sisters and brothers in faith."
The idea taps into research that shows role models are a powerful force for driving positive change in the game by inspiring the next generation, encouraging parental support as well as tackling misconceptions and prejudice. Representation of British Asians in professional soccer has been found to be considerably lacking and disproportionate to the wider population; just 10 professional players in the U.K. are Asian, out of 4000. In 2020, a survey conducted by the Football Supporters’ Association and Beyond Entertainment found that 86% of fans felt that more role models would increase the numbers of British Asian players.
According to Adam&Eve/DDB chief creative officer Rick Brim, having EA Sports on board was also key when pitching the idea to Channel 4: "The client was with us when we presented, and pitching it as a collaboration with the client is very important to us. As a company they are very into using the platform they have for good and to change the real sport."
As part of the campaign, EA SPORTS also released a number of bespoke FIFA 21 Midnight Ramadan League inspired in-game assets, such as an exclusive Midnight Ramadan League kit and stadium dressing. "TV is great but the platform of the actual game is monumental," says Brim. "That is testament to the importance that they are putting on this."