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How much will the loss of the FIFA license impact EA going forward?



In his most revealing comments yet on the status of licence negotiations with the footballing body, Wilson told staff in an internal company meeting in November that the FIFA license had been "an impediment" to EA's ambitions for the game series. In comments provided anonymously to VGC, Wilson claimed that FIFA had precluded EA from expanding its games into modes beyond traditional 11v11, or "broader digital ecosystems", and suggested that the only value EA got from the licence in a non-World Cup year was "four letters on the front of the box".

EA declined to comment when provided with advance notice of this story. EA and FIFA were engaged in a surprising series of back-and-forth statements last year, which started when the video games publisher decided to make public that it was considering ending its relationship with the footballing body.

According to a New York Times report published the same month, negotiations between the pair stalled due to EA's desire for more rights, and FIFA's alleged demand for EA to double its payment for the licence to $2.5 billion over the next decade. If negotiations aren't resolved before EA's current 10-year naming deal expires after this year's Qatar World Cup, FIFA 23 could be the final EA Sports football game to use the FIFA name. VGC understands EA is currently planning to release this year's game as FIFA 23 and include two FIFA World Cup tournaments – the men's and women's events – for the first time.

However, speaking to employees during an internal all-hands meeting in November, EA boss Wilson argued that ditching the FIFA brand could benefit its developers, players and the company's bottom line – especially in years when it doesn't have a World Cup tournament to put into its games.

"I'm going to be more open… more open than I've been with the outside world," Wilson said, when asked why EA was considering breaking up with FIFA. "We've had a great relationship with FIFA over the past 30-odd years. We've created billions in value… it's just huge. We've created one of the biggest entertainment properties on the planet. "I would argue – and this may be a little biased – that the FIFA brand has more meaning as a video game than it does a governing body of soccer. We don't take that for granted and we try not to be arrogant. We've worked really hard to try and make FIFA understand what we need for the future."

He added: "Basically, what we get from FIFA in a non-World Cup year is the four letters on the front of the box, in a world where most people don't even see the box anymore because they buy the game digitally. "In a World Cup year of course, we get access to the World Cup, but in the broader context of global football on an annualised basis, the World Cup is important but it's not the most important. We have 300 other licences that give us the content that our players engage with the most and the most deeply."

So it looks like EA are indeed going full-steam ahead with dumping the FIFA license from their biggest series. This will mean that EA will no longer be able to use the "FIFA" name for their football series, and they will lose the rights to tie-in their games with the World Cup as a result. They will have to rename the series (rumours currently point towards the series being renamed "EA Sports FC")

However, EA will still retain the FIFPro license; granting them the individual team and player likeness rights that they currently enjoy. This is arguably the most important aspect of football game licensing; and arguably the key factor in EA's success with the series over the years. However, it is worth noting that FIFPro is not exclusive to EA; and that another developer/publisher could potentially also run with the FIFPro license; perhaps even with the name "FIFA" itself on the box... how damaging could this potentially be if a rival manages to "steal" the name FIFA from EA and also pay for the FIFPro team/player likenesses to come out swinging with a rival series?

I think it's safe to say that there will certainly be some damage done by losing the branding that the series has enjoyed for the last 30 years; the question though is how much damage? Do you think that EA will be able to successfully transition players over from "FIFA" to "EA Sports FC"? Or is this another e-Football in the making?

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