FIFA vow to take EA Sports head-on in football e-gaming as licensing deal looks dead

By Paul Nicholson

October 18 – With EA Sports review of its FIFA license increasingly looking like bringing an end to its FIFA branded game at the end of the current rights cycle, FIFA has issued a statement saying that it will be widening its own gaming and eSports portfolio.

FIFA said it “is bullish and optimistic about its long-term future in gaming and eSports following a comprehensive and strategic assessment of the gaming and interactive entertainment market.”

Crucially FIFA said that the market for football games cannot be dominated by one company. “The future of gaming and eSports for football stakeholders must involve more than one party controlling and exploiting all rights,” said FIFA

EA Sports licenses the FIFA name and its marks for the game that it is released annually. FIFA 22 is on sale now.

In its latest annual accounts FIFA reported that $158.9 million of the $266.5 million in total revenue for the year came from licensing rights. The bulk of that will be its EA deal and presumably any revenue share from the FIFA-branded game.

The loss of the EA Sports license will undoubtedly hit FIFA’s eSports revenues in the short term and will clearly put significant cash back into EA Sports’ corporate coffers. The football game itself will need to be renamed but will be pretty much be unaffected. A trademark filing at the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office and the European Union Intellectual Property Office shows EA having registered the name ‘EA Sports FC’.

EA Sports continued dominance of the football video gaming sector is guaranteed by the more than 300 license agreements with major leagues and governing bodies from deals with UEFA’s Champions League and Conmebol’s Libertadores, to the Premier League, Bundesliga, and LaLiga Santander.

Most recently EA Sports renewed a deal with global players’ union FIFPRO that supports the “thousands of player names and likenesses” that are used in the game.

EA Sports also holds all the data for the more than 150 million FIFA game buyers and players.

However, it is clear is that the platform eco-system for football will change if FIFA has its way. FIFA said it “is engaging with various industry players, including developers, investors and analysts, to build out a long-term view of the gaming, eSports and interactive entertainment sector.”

While the FIFA name may be stripped from the world’s biggest selling football gaming title there will also be an impact on the competitive gaming championships around FIFA’s eWorld Cup and newly implemented eNations League and eClub World Cup – competitions that have been growing rapidly and all of which are played on EA’s FIFA-branded game.

FIFA said that it is committed “to continuing to organise skill-based eSports tournaments under the umbrella of the recently launched FIFAe competition structure and consumer brand.”

At this stage it is hard to see how these games – and the football club branded teams that compete in them – will be able to continue within the EA Sports gaming platform unless a deal is struck with them continuing as a ‘sub-title’ within the EA game eco-system and under a renamed EA Sports football brand.

While EA Sports is having doubts over the value of the FIFA brand, FIFA is aggressively bullish both about the brand and its own right to rule the world of football egames.

“The relationship and affinity that the gaming and eSports market has developed over time with the FIFA name clearly underscore that football-based gaming and the FIFA name are intrinsically intertwined,” said FIFA.

“Finally, FIFA has also determined that the overlaps between virtual sport and FIFA’s football competitions must be more closely aligned. In this respect, FIFA is excited about using the FIFA World Cup (with four billion viewers) and FIFA Women’s World Cup (with an audience of 1.2 billion) as platforms to launch and integrate exciting new games and eSports offerings.”

Those are big and impressive numbers, and if they can be turned into significant numbers of FIFA-owned game players, then a hugely valuable asset that will establish FIFA’s ownership of the esports football sector. And generate huge amounts of new money for the global governing body of the game that is played by humans wearing boots.

Against them they have 150 million of already paid-up football esports enthusiasts who play the game with their hands, with no real governing body but who spend money every year on a game named FIFA but owned by someone else. This will be a hard away fixture for FIFA to win on its own.

See: David Owen: EA Sports ‘review’ puts new question-mark over FIFA’s expansionist agenda 

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