FIFA, the video game, is at war with FIFA, the soccer organization. Game publisher Electronic Arts is considering a generic alternative for its 28-year-old, $20 billion franchise, after licensing talks reportedly stalled over a seven-figure fee.
EA’s contract to license the FIFA name is up at the end of the 2022 World Cup next December, and the company has yet to reach a new agreement. Negotiations between the two sides have been ongoing for two years, reports The New York Times. The main sticking point is money: The Times reports that FIFA wants to more than double the amount it gets from EA, to more than $1 billion for each four-year World Cup cycle. On top of that, FIFA wants to slap the “FIFA” brand on more than just EA’s video game, pursuing new partnerships outside of its exclusivity deal.
“As we look ahead, we’re also exploring the idea of renaming our global EA Sports football games,” EA Sports’ Cam Weber wrote after the launch in October of FIFA 22. “This means we’re reviewing our naming rights agreement with FIFA, which is separate from all our official partnerships and licenses across the football world.”
Imagining FIFA sans FIFA is tricky. However, EA’s deal with FIFA is just one of about 300 licenses that power the video game. As soccer’s international governing body, FIFA enforces soccer’s rules, facilitates player transfers, and, of course, runs the World Cup, watched by billions. What FIFA doesn’t control is perhaps more significant to EA: soccer’s many clubs, leagues, and particular players. Mostly, what EA gets from its FIFA license is a very big, very important name.
“The fear we always had was how much money we were paying FIFA for what you get,” says Peter Moore. Over his 10 years at EA, first as head of EA Sports and then as COO, Moore had been present for licensing negotiations with FIFA before leaving the company in 2017. He calls the ongoing situation, especially with one year left on the licensing agreement, “unprecedented.”
What sports fans want out of a sports game is authenticity, says Moore, who now works at Unity. FIFA 22 re-created 17,000 players, 30 leagues, 700 teams, and over 90 stadiums with incredible fidelity. Not a lot of that is owed to FIFA. There’s still a large portion of the game that could be executed through national teams, leagues, and clubs. Plus, says Moore, FIFA itself has had its fair share of controversy in recent years: the 2015 corruption scandal, allegations of bribery. The value of the FIFA brand is immense, yes, but according to Moore, to a lot of younger people, “FIFA” is more recognizable as a video game than as a corporate entity.
“This is a time when you say goodbye to FIFA,” says Moore. “If there was ever a time EA needed to walk away, you walk away now.” EA recently registered “EA Sports F.C.” as a trademark in the UK and EU. Moore suggests taking just half of the hundreds of millions EA spends on the FIFA license to start building out that game. “Clearly, for both parties, it might be time to think about doing something different,” says Moore.