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A game with no name

A game with no name

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Talks for naming rights between video game manufacturer EA Sports and FIFA are reportedly at a standstill. Which could mean the unthinkable – a FIFA video game not actually called FIFA.


Transcript

Andrew Butler: Hi, I’m Andrew and this is the Playmaker.

One story, every day to make sense of the world of football.

Today, the fight to keep hold of one of football’s most valuable assets.

***

There’s an art to making news.

Take press releases.

You can either come out with the news loud and proud or you can bury it. 

It’s the salesman’s approach versus the undertaker’s.  Both are valid but you are left asking yourself why one was chosen over the other.

There was a classic example of news management by the men in black last month.  It was to do with a video game and the actual news was buried in the penultimate paragraph.

The press release was published by EA Sports, following the release of FIFA 22 in early October.

[Clip: EA Sports advert]

The headline?

Electronic Arts Announces Record-breaking FIFA 22 Launch and Provides Comments on the Future of Football.

The ‘record-breaking’ part took care of itself in the first couple of sentences. “We’ve already had 9.1 million players join the game, 7.6 million Ultimate Team squads created and 460 million matches played,” it gushed.

But what followed – quote: ‘comments on the future of football’ – was the more intriguing part.  Explosive, even.

There, right at the bottom, was a sentence that has set gamers and football fans into a bit of a spin. 

“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.”

Here, EA Sports was saying that, from next year, their video game FIFA might not be called… FIFA.

Until now, the partnership between EA Sports and FIFA has suited them both – just ask their accountants.  

Sales of the game have made EA Sports more than $20 billion in the past two decades. That’s right: $20 billion. 

Here’s Andrew Wilson, EA’s CEO… 

“But we feel really good about the year ahead… the industry’s on fire, more people recognise the value of games, are network of people is growing…”

Andrew Wilson, CEO of EA

And FIFA – football’s governing body – does pretty well out of it as well. The licensing agreement is FIFA’s single-most valuable commercial contract, worth about $150 million a year.

The current 10-year licensing deal, that allows EA Sports to call their game FIFA, is coming to an end and, after two years of negotiation, talks have stalled, according to the New York Times.

Enter… a new player in the game.

***

2K are a rival video game manufacturer – best known for games like BioShock, and Borderlands.  But they’ve also got a few sports games on their roster, most notably the basketball game NBA 2K. 

Last week, rumours started circulating that 2K were monitoring the situation, fuelling speculation that it might acquire the naming rights.  

They won’t come cheap.

FIFA reportedly wants $1billion for every four-year World Cup cycle to license their name for gaming purposes – an increase of $100million each year on its current deal.

Now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone involved in football that FIFA wants more money. They love the stuff. 

What we might be witnessing is video game brinkmanship. 

EA Sports know their hand is strong.  

They’ve got 20 years of infrastructure, know-how and, crucially, agreements with more than 300 football organisations and leagues.  

That means they can use the names of players and clubs.  They can feature competitions like the Champions League. They can use players’ likenesses to add to the ‘realness’ of the experience.  So all they’d be losing would be the name of the game: FIFA.

And arguably, EA Sports have already started planning for a FIFA-less future. 

They have registered trademarks in the EU and the UK for the phrase, ‘EA Sports F.C’ – not quite as catchy as ‘FIFA’ but it suggests the manufacturer is considering cutting ties. 

EA Sports want to expand what their game can cover – so things like video game tournaments in real-life arenas, and create NFTs using in-game footage. 

FIFA, whilst also wanting more money, want to limit EA Sports into a slightly more narrow parameter, by just allowing them to use their name for the game alone, and not the additional things EA Sports may have planned in the future.  

For over 20 years it’s been one of the most recognisable franchises in football and gaming alike – but next year might bring about its great divorce. 

Today’s episode was written by Andrew Butler, and produced by Imy Harper.