Whitecaps partner with EA Sports

The Vancouver Whitecaps are partnering with video game giant EA Sports.

The Vancouver Whitecaps are not only in the game, they've teamed up with the people who make it.

The expansion Major League Soccer club announced a business relationship Monday with EA Sports, developers of the hit "FIFA Soccer" video game franchise.

EA Sports, whose slogan is "It's In the Game," has sold more than 100 million copies of the made-in-Burnaby game since the series began in 1993. The company joins BMO Financial Group as a founding partner of the Whitecaps, who will join MLS in 2011.

"FIFA Soccer 12," next year's version of the game, will incorporate Whitecaps players.

"We're even more excited about what this sponsorship means to fans, to players of all ages and skills and the growth of our sport in our own backyard," Whitecaps CEO Paul Barber said of the EA Sports affiliation. "This will bring the fans closer to the game and will put our club and our stadium on a global level. And that is about being a top-25 club in the world and that is what the Whitecaps aspire to be."

The partnership with the Whitecaps is EA Sports' first with a North American soccer club. It has similar deals with high-profile European clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea and Real Madrid.

"[Fans] can transport themselves to B.C. Place before it's even opened and play Whitecaps vs. Barcelona," said Barber, a former executive director of Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League. "They can have great fun in seeing Whitecaps as part of the world game."

Toronto FC, the other Canadian MLS team, is already in the video game.

The Whitecaps will begin play at Empire Field, a temporary stadium, while B.C. Place gets a new roof an other renovations.

Bell Canada is a top-tier premier partner with Whitecaps and its name is on the sweaters.

The partnership with EA Sports links the team to a company that's associated with FIFA and the world's top players.

"To be amongst that is a hugely important thing for us," Barber said. "The fact that it is a local company makes it even more special for us to be involved."

EA Sports will have exclusive access to Whitecaps players for motion capture as it creates virtual players for its FIFA game. Vancouver fans and players will test early versions of its soccer products.

"The majority of the [video game's] popularity, historically is back in Europe but having access to the stadium, the players, the fans here in the city, that's really the key reason why we're working with the Whitecaps from the game point of view," said Matt Bilbey, EA Sports' vice-president and general manager of soccer.

Bilbey and his crew had some fun at Monday's announcement by featuring Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi in a demo of the game. While he won't be a player included in "FIFA Soccer 12" when it comes out, the former Canadian international helped the Whitecaps capture the North American Soccer League crown in 1979.

"We'd all like to have 10 or 15 years taken off, wouldn't we," said Bilbey. "I've never seen Bobby score so many goals."

NBA star Steve Nash, a part owner of the Whitecaps who has been filming promotional videos of EA Sports' FIFA game, wasn' involved in forging the agreement, Bilbey said.

The comedic videos with L.A. Galaxy forward Landon Donovan show Nash trying to horn in on a video game competition among elite soccer stars.

"He didn't have any involvement in this particular deal but I know he smiled when he found out about it," Bilbey said.  "I think he thinks it's his way to get into the pro player championship but he'd be wrong."