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EA’s FIFA games might not be called FIFA in future. That’s what EA Sports say, eventually, in a blog post on the “future of football”.
The actual comment on the renaming is brief. “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.”
Before it reaches the point of saying this, the post seems designed to convince you that a name change wouldn’t be a big deal. Chiefly, EA make clear that they understand the importance of having licenses and player likenesses in the game, and make the point that those licenses do not entirely rely on FIFA. “Through years of building our global franchise, we also know that authenticity is essential to the experience. That’s why we focus so much energy on the collective strength of over 300 individual licensed partners that give us access to 17,000+ athletes across 700+ teams, in 100 stadiums and over 30 leagues around the world.”
Losing FIFA as a licensing partner would not restrict access to the Champions League (controlled by Uefa) or to the players of Manchester United, for example. It would prevent the use of World Cup branding, however.
The name change and loss of licensing revenue would, however, be a big deal for FIFA as an organisation. Football’s governing body made $267 million (around £197 million) in revenue in 2020, around 60% of which came from licensing. EA’s announcement of the “review” at this stage may just be a tactic to apply pressure before renegotiations begin.
Last year, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gareth Bale questioned the use of their names and likenesses in FIFA21. “Who gave FIFA EA Sport permission to use my name and face? @FIFPro?”, wrote Ibrahimovic in a tweet. “I’m not aware to be a member of FIFPro and if I am I was put there without any real knowledge through some weird manouver.”
FIFPro is a players’ union who, among other duties, sell name and likeness rights of players from any member nation. FIFPro is affiliated with FIFA. The criticism from big name footballers was seen at the time as being prompted by FIFA’s efforts to regulate the behaviour and earnings of football agents.
Given this – and years of FIFA corruption scandals – EA Sports may feel that they’d be better off negotiating with leagues, teams and players individually as necessary. Given the lack of competition for football games right now, it’s not a bad time to try.