Just days after the successful launch of the world’s most popular soccer video game, FIFA 22, manufacturers EA Sports have hinted at a massive change.
“As we look ahead,” wrote EA Sports Group CEO Cam Weber in a blog post, “we are exploring the idea of renaming our global company EA Sports. [soccer] Games. This means that we are reviewing our naming rights agreement with FIFA. “
In other words, the FIFA brand could disappear, severing a 30-year partnership that has become iconic.
The couple’s current ten-year deal expires after the next edition, or until the 2022 Qatar World Cup, and while a new deal can still be reached, negotiations that are progressing well rarely result in public statements. on alternative solutions.
Reports suggest there are several reasons FIFA and EA Sports may go their separate ways.
The first is financial: FIFA wants an increase which, according to the New York Times, would net them over $ 1 billion for each four-year World Cup cycle, a significant increase from the $ 150 million currently paid by EA Sports.
Another apparent stumbling block comes from across the negotiating table. The video game maker is reportedly keen to increase what it was getting from FIFA, with some real strengths from the game and fan tokens identified as areas for expansion.
But the bigger question is: does EA Sports need a deal with the official football governing body?
As Weber pointed out in his statement, before hinting at a potential break with FIFA, the organization isn’t exactly lacking in deals that give them the right to present the greatest football players and the most successful clubs. popular.
“We are focusing so much energy on the collective strength of over 300 individual licensed partners who give us access to over 17,000 athletes in over 700 teams, in 100 stadiums and over 30 leagues around the world,” said the Director General. “We continually invest in the partnerships and licenses that make the most sense to players, and for that reason our game is the only place you can authentically play in the iconic UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, CONMEBOL Libertadores , Premier League, Bundesliga, and LaLiga Santander.
The only gold nugget missing from this elite list of football intellectual property is of course the World Cup, which is owned by FIFA. But with the competition only taking place every four years, EA Sports could be forgiven for thinking that players might not turn off because they cannot replicate the action of the competition point by point until brand trophy.
Even in an EA Sports universe without FIFA, stars like Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Erling Haaland will be just as accessible in their club uniforms on the world’s most popular soccer game.
Beyond the importance of breaking a three-decade-old super-brand, the reason a split between FIFA and EA Sport would be so important is that it would represent a break in the traditional power structure.
It’s a sign that the governing body and its flagship event may no longer be the zenith of the game.
If that changes, then there could be a lot more to follow.
FIFA, UEFA and the strange power dynamics
In his book Goal: the ball does not enter by chance, Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano underlines the unusual power dynamic that exists between sport’s governing bodies and those it regulates.
“The national associations, UEFA and FIFA are the [soccer] industry regulators, ”he wrote,“ but they also have their own teams – the national teams – that participate in the competitions they regulate and organize. Thus, they compete with clubs for audience: TV channels can decide to buy the World Cup or the Champions League. In one case, the income goes to FIFA, and in the other, it goes to UEFA and the clubs.
“They are also competing for sponsors, who can choose to support the national team or the Euro Cup instead of sponsoring a club or the Champions League. They exercise their powers under very favorable conditions, they fix the calendar, the rules of the competition, and, above all, they take employees (the players) of the clubs as needed and do so without remunerating them.
A “more normal situation”, suggests Soriano, would be for UEFA and FIFA to “regulate and not compete”.
He then adds that he tried to improve the situation while he was general manager of FC Barcelona by pushing for the clubs to be more involved in the decision-making processes.
The most substantial effort to achieve this came in April with the unsuccessful attempt by 20 of the world’s greatest teams to form a breakaway European Super League.
Although the attempt failed, it demonstrated just how ready the clubs are now to test the unique relationship described by Soriano. The market value that FIFA and UEFA currently have is under threat.
Governing bodies got the upper hand when clubs tried to take a break, warning players who participated in ESL would be banned from international tournaments, but the whole affair showed their vulnerability.
It is only the continued cooperation of these teams – whose brands are in many cases arguably as great, if not superior, as the competitions in which they play – that allows FIFA and UEFA to continue to lead. the show.
The authority of these organizations is collapsing in other ways as well.
During the international break in September, the preeminence of international football was challenged by several Premier League clubs. The teams did not want to release their players in South American countries because the Covid-19 regulations would then exclude them from future club matches.
Against this backdrop, the prospect of EA Sports losing the FIFA name seems inevitable.
The vast majority of clubs are already dealing individually with the company, so what’s the point of spending a billion dollars on the regulator’s name?