EA Sports and FIFA to end their exclusive deal?
The FIFA video game series has become synonymous with gamers and football fans alike. Whilst the series’ reputation has never been phenomenal, it has always sold well and continues to beat its competition. Could a fall out and a loss of naming rights spell the end to its dominance, though?
Go back almost twenty years and EA Sports was planning a new football game under the name of EA Soccer. Whilst it was not the first football game to be released, it was revolutionary, as it chose to use an isometric view rather than a traditional top-down view. If you’re wondering why EA Soccer doesn’t sound familiar, this is because the game was actually released as ‘FIFA International Soccer’.
It became the best-selling home video game of 1993 in the UK, so EA naturally started working on a sequel. FIFA Soccer ‘95 was released in 1994, and thus, the FIFA series was born. From this point, every year, a new ‘FIFA’ game was released.
Early reviews were good, but they fell short of being amazing. The general perception was that more could always have been added, and that EA Sports was actually quite lazy. More recently, reviews from consumers really began to plummet.
In 2008, FIFA ‘09 was released, and with it, a brand-new game mode: Ultimate Team. EA may not have known it at the time, but they had arguably created their biggest cash cow. ‘FUT’, as it is commonly referred to, is essentially a card trading game. Players open ‘packs’ using two currencies: virtual coins, which are earned through playing the game, and FIFA points, which can be bought using real money.
FIFA points quickly became one of EA’s best-selling products.
Every iteration since Ultimate Team has seen billions of FIFA Points bought. This, however, has led to controversy. The FIFA games are targeted at young children and younger football fans. Using real world money to open a pack, that carries no guarantee as to what you’ll receive inside, could easily be viewed as gambling.
FIFA, as an organisation, is no stranger to scandals; a simple Google search will provide you with many stories. It is perhaps fitting then that a video game using its brand is caught up in its own scandal.
The accusation that the game encourages gambling has resulted in the Dutch Gambling Authority fining EA 10 million euros, for violating its Betting and Gaming Act. FIFA has not yet commented on EA’s controversy.
EA and FIFA’s Statements
In October 2021, EA released a statement about its record-breaking launch of FIFA ‘22. The statement also included this: ‘As we look ahead, we’re also exploring the idea of renaming our global EA SPORTS football games. This means we’re reviewing our naming rights agreement with FIFA, which is separate from all our other official partnerships and licenses across the football world.’ The key word there is ‘reviewing’, as opposed to ‘renewing’.
Many theories have been given by fans of the series, the main being that money talks. FIFA will no doubt be aware of the success of EA’s video games in their name and will want to negotiate an appropriate fee for naming rights. EA will likely believe that the success of its Ultimate Team game mode means it will no longer need the FIFA brand to be recognisable.
A week later and a statement from FIFA. ‘FIFA is bullish and excited about the future in gaming and eSports for football, and it is clear that this needs to be a space that is occupied by more than one party controlling all rights.’
At the moment, EA’s game is the only one under FIFA’s eSports brand. ‘The future of gaming and eSports for football stakeholders must involve more than one party controlling and exploiting all rights.’ FIFA will already be looking at different games to include in its line-up—a decision EA is unlikely to be overjoyed about.
EA and FIFA’s Future Partnership
It has not yet been confirmed that EA and FIFA have cut all ties, but this is looking more likely by the day. The FIFA series holds the most popular football video games, and its competition barely makes a dent on EA’s earnings; however, any new name will require new branding and packaging. Changing the name of a 20-year-old series won’t be easy. EA Soccer ‘23 doesn’t quite have the same ring to it and actually sounds similar to its main competitor, eFootball (previously known as Pro Evolution Soccer).
Not all of EA Sports’ games use a governing body as their titles. Whilst there is FIFA ‘22 and NHL ‘22 (Ice Hockey), there is also Madden ‘22, an American football game based around the NFL. Madden refers in name to John Madden, a famous NFL coach. Maybe EA will choose this route again.
The latest suggestion is ‘EA Sports FC’, as EA recently sent an application to the UK’s and European Union’s Intellectual Property Office to register the name as a trademark.
FIFA will need a popular video game for its eSports offering to remain successful. If EA no longer wants to work with them, due to this fallout over naming rights, this may hurt FIFA more in the long run…
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