EA CEO apparently ready to drop FIFA brand from games, calling it “an impediment”

The future of this partnership is up in the air amidst claims FIFA is holding EA back.

Image via EA Sports

Last October, it was reported Electronic Arts was looking to rebrand its popular FIFA series after 30 years of partnership. The likelihood of this happening now appears very high after EA CEO Andrew Wilson dubbed the long-standing brand “an impediment” to EA SPORTS franchise games. 

In comments provided anonymously and compiled by VGC, Wilson reportedly claimed that, as part of its partnership with the brand, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has kept EA from expanding the scope of its games. 

These limitations specifically included adding game modes that would let players enjoy alternatives to the traditional 11-on-11 style FIFA uses and an expansion to “broader digital ecosystems.” Wilson reportedly went as far as to suggest EA only sees value from the FIFA brand in years that involve the World Cup. Outside of that, he reportedly claimed the brand is just “four letters on the front of the box.”

“Basically, what we get from FIFA in a non-World Cup year is the four letters on the front of the box, in a world where most people don’t even see the box anymore because they buy the game digitally,” Wilson said. “In a World Cup year, of course, we get access to the World Cup, but in the broader context of global football on an annualized basis, the World Cup is important but it’s not the most important. We have 300 other licenses that give us the content that our players engage with the most and the most deeply.”

EA has worked with the FIFA brand since 1993. They annualized the FIFA franchise in 1997, releasing new titles as recently as FIFA 22 last October. These games sell millions of copies and generate billions of dollars in revenue for EA. However, the developer is now more conscious of how much the brand is costing them.

An October report from The Times noted that FIFA asks for around $1 billion every four years to license its properties, with additional information alleging FIFA may be demanding EA double its payment for the license to $2.5 billion over the next decade.

VGC notes that EA will release FIFA 23 along with two World Cup tournament modes to coincide with the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in November. These will represent the men’s and women’s events together for the first time. However, plans beyond that are unclear.

As part of an all-hands meeting in November, with quotes obtained by VGC, Wilson noted that FIFA and EA have created one of the biggest entertainment properties on the planet, but relationships are now changing due to differing audience demands. This has reportedly been flagged with FIFA.

“Our FIFA license has actually precluded us from doing a lot of this stuff. Again, FIFA is just the name on the box, but they’ve precluded our ability to be able to branch into the areas that players want,” Wilson said. “I had a conversation with (FIFA president) Gianni Infantino just a couple of weeks ago where I said, ‘listen, the money’s a thing: we don’t want to pay more money than this license is worth. But it’s not about that, it’s really about our ability to deliver games and experiences that our fans want, in a timely fashion.’”

All of this brings EA’s potential license renewal to a head, especially with the company already having the rights to use player likenesses, player names, officially branded stadiums, team names, and other licenses through other deals.

EA trademarked the name EA Sports FC in Europe, and is planning to release similarly branded EA Sports College Football and EA Sports PGA Tour later this year. This move is expected to allow them more freedom than previous partnerships with brands like the NCAA and PGL.

“At the end of the day, I don’t know if we’re going to get there,” Wilson said. “And ironically, if we don’t, and we’re able to rebrand our game and take control of this global football ecosystem that we’re going to build, ironically we’ll probably generate more revenue, and have more fans, and have more engagement over time. Because we’ll be able to work with more partners, we’ll be able to build more modes of play, we’ll be able to expand more deeply and broadly into the digital ecosystems around the fabric of football, and more than anything we’ll be able to move really, really fast.”

With that messaging, it appears EA is ready to move on, but we will have to wait and see how the licensing discussions continue to evolve over the remainder of the year. 

You can read the full original report and additional information about the ongoing discussions and back-and-forth between EA and FIFA on VGC.