It’s been no secret that EA has been planning for life without its yearly football sim carrying the FIFA name. The company made that crystal clear in a press release celebrating FIFA 22’s incredibly successful launch, with a New York Times report the following week revealing exactly why: football’s governing body got greedy. “Multiple people close to the negotiations”, which went on for “at least two years”, revealed that FIFA had attempted to double the cost of its naming rights while also limiting EA’s exclusivity to a football game — EA, on the other hand, wanted to explore “other ventures within its FIFA video game ecosystem, including highlights of actual games, arena video game tournaments and digital products like NFTs.”
This week, those talks came to an end — and along with them, one of the longest-standing and most fruitful relationships in the video game industry — as EA heralded the dawn of a new era by boldly proclaiming that “EA SPORTS FC is the Future of Interactive Football” (after FIFA 23, which falls under the current naming rights agreement). In an impassioned press release, EA Sports general manager Cam Weber shared the company’s excitement to use this “new independent platform” to “take global football experiences to new heights, on behalf of all football fans around the world.” Weber also detailed EA’s commitment to “meaningfully reinvesting in the sport” and “[working] with a large and increasing number of partners to expand to new authentic experiences that bring joy, inclusivity and immersion to a global community of fans.”
Considering that the press release was full to the brim with passion and promises, you’d be forgiven for thinking that EA continuing without the FIFA name is a really, really big deal… but it’s not. In fact, it’s hard to see a whole lot actually changing when it comes to EA’s yearly football sim.
To understand why this new arrangement isn’t the massive deal you might think it is, you only need to look at the reasons why EA SPORTS FIFA has been the dominant football sim over the past couple of decades.
It’s important to remember that the agreement that’s expiring after FIFA 23 is only for naming rights; FIFA doesn’t have the rights to any aspects of the games themselves. That means that EA SPORTS FC will still feature “the same great experiences, modes, leagues, tournaments, clubs and athletes”, including its Frostbite engine, Pro Clubs, VOLTA Football and the absolute financial juggernaut that is FIFA Ultimate Team… and FIFA’s own new title won’t. It’s taken EA Sports decades to build EA SPORTS FIFA into what it is today — a football simulator so dominant within its market that its only major competitor went free-to-play just to get more players to give it a shot — and without EA’s gameplay innovations, it’s difficult to imagine FIFA and whoever it partners with competing any time soon.
One of the other factors that led to EA SPORTS FIFA dominating and almost monopolising its market is the fact that, for the longest time, it was the only game upon which you could play with real teams and players as opposed to having Ronaird (Ronaldo) and Naldarinho (Ronaldinho) leading the Brazilian national team in an exhibition match against Man Red (Manchester United) and its legendary duo of Ryan Greggs (Giggs) and Law Kit (Roy Keane). The fact that EA held exclusive licences for just about every team in the major leagues meant that players in search of authenticity would gravitate towards EA SPORTS FIFA and away from its rivals.
You’d be well within your rights to think that, with the partnership between EA and FIFA dissolving, EA would no longer have that authenticity over its rivals, but you’d also be wrong. Throughout its tenure as “the FIFA developer”, EA has amassed a “unique licensing portfolio of more than 19,000+ players, 700+ teams, 100+ stadiums and 30 leagues”, including “exclusive partnerships with the Premier League, LaLiga, Bundesliga, Serie A, the MLS – and more to come”. Having done that independently of its partnership with FIFA, EA still carries those licences into EA SPORTS FC.
One piece of content that EA SPORTS FC will be missing, however, is official World Cup content from 2026 onwards, since that’s one of the few things within EA SPORTS FIFA that FIFA itself owns the rights to. That content happens every four years, though, so it’s hard to imagine that EA will miss that — especially given that FC will still feature content related to the UEFA Champions League, Europa League, Europa Conference League, which has become a real cornerstone of the Ultimate Team experience in general, on top of content related to UEFA’s own quadrennial European Championships.
In a statement of its own released shortly after EA’s announcement, FIFA signalled its intention to “work with a range of partners” on football-related video games, “rather than [locking] up all gaming and esports rights exclusively with one publisher for the long term.” Within that statement, FIFA’s President, Gianni Infantino, assured fans that “the only authentic, real game that has the FIFA name will be the best one available for gamers and football fans,” suggesting that “the FIFA name is the only global, original title”, and that the FIFA name “will remain forever and remain THE BEST.”
Viewed on its own, FIFA’s comment is a solid piece of spin that might convince some that it was FIFA’s own decision to terminate its agreement with EA. Adding Infantino’s comments into the same press release, however, turns what is actually quite a good, measured response into something that looks more like the rambling of a jaded ex-partner trying to flip the script and make it look like they did the dumping. It also discredits the spin, because the company that chooses to dissolve a business relationship doesn’t typically feel the need to assure consumers that it’ll be fine without that relationship; that’s usually the rhetoric employed by the company desperate to save face after losing a key partnership.
In reality, it’s far more believable that EA ended its negotiations with FIFA after the latter’s price became too steep, comfortable in the belief (and/or the knowledge) that its football sim can survive, and even thrive, without those four letters in its name — and don’t get me wrong, that’s basically what the negotiations were about. EA’s attention to detail in brokering licensing agreements with individual players, leagues and clubs means that FIFA was essentially demanding a whole billion dollars for the right to use four letters.
What this all boils down to is the fact that, when it does eventually reach the market, FIFA’s challenger to EA SPORTS FC isn’t going to have a whole lot to offer consumers that EA won’t be able to match. EA SPORTS FC is still going to have its wealth of interesting game modes (with room to innovate), it’s still going to have the gameplay that EA has honed over three long decades, and it’s still going to have all of those licences — and probably more.
In fact, the major differentiating factor will be the gameplay itself. Despite all the flack EA SPORTS FIFA has copped from its player base since the launch of Ultimate Team, it’s hard to imagine a first-time football sim developer matching EA’s offering on that front.
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