Although it feels like it happened over a month and a half ago, it was only two weeks to the day today that Sky announced it was giving Andy Gray the boot for “unacceptable behaviour” (read: sexist remarks). I suppose that’s normal; when you’re dealing with the day-to-day news churn, two weeks can feel like a small age and days can stretch out to interminable lengths. This is why it felt like forever before EA made a statement on the day about whether it was going to keep Gray on board for its FIFA franchise, when in fact, they came back with a bland “no comment” in under four hours.
That was to be expected. After all, EA is a massive, massive company and FIFA is a massive, massive video games franchise. You can’t reasonably expect a company that size to make a fairly huge decision about one of its biggest franchises in just a four hour window. (You have every right to expect them to answer a question, however, and fair-play to them, they did. They said “no comment”.)
EA Sports probably doesn’t want to be rushed into a decision about what they’re going to do about Andy Gray, because they have a rather sizable investment in the man.
First off, whatever you may think about Gray as a person following his remarks concerning a certain female match official, you can’t deny that he was – and is – a very good football commentator. Not as good, perhaps, as the inimitable Martin Tyler, but then there aren’t many pundits who are. However, Tyler and Gray made a formidable team on the FIFA series of games. Even if you found Gray’s real-life commentary irritating (particularly during any Man Yoo game) the way he added colour to to Tyler’s play-by-play in FIFA was – and is – sublime. It was so good, in fact, that it’s hard to imagine another pundit stepping in to fill his spot and doing as good a job.
But the potential loss of Gray’s obvious talent is only half of EA’s worries. What has to really sting is the prospect of picking apart about five year’s worth of work on the audio track to FIFA.
For the past four or five years, the English commentary in FIFA has steadily improved. Whereas in the past it mainly consisted of the commentators reacting to what was happening on the pitch, in recent iterations, it’s become more contextual; taking account of who is playing, where the match is being played, the score, what the players have done and the importance of the occasion. The reason the audio team was able to do this is because they already have a large database filled with commentary samples recorded from both Gray and Tyler. This is one of the reasons the commentary tracks improve with each iteration EA releases – they have a boatload of samples to build on and two talented pundits who aid in fleshing out the commentary. Every year, Tyler and Gray would add to it and help make FIFA’s English commentary feel more and more authentic. So, if EA decide to follow Sky’s lead and rid of Andy Gray, they’ll most likely end up having to ditch hundreds of hours of commentary audio which probably cost them quite a pretty penny to record in the first place.
Of course, all costs and talent aside, EA Sports may still decide to ditch Gray. One of the key aims of every single FIFA – indeed, every single EA Sports release – is that it looks, feels and sounds authentic. With Gray now off Sky – and unlikely to be snapped up by another broadcaster any time soon – he’s legitimately no longer an integral part of the experience of watching a game. It’ll seem a little strange to have him commentating on a Premiership games in FIFA 12 if he no longer does it for television.
EA Sports haven’t yet made a decision on whether or not to keep Gray – and if they have they’re not telling us. Still, in the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt if they put some female match officials in their game…