Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson has reportedly told staff that he feels the publisher might actually be better off losing the FIFA licence.
EA and FIFA have been partners for 30 years, but that relationship is in jeopardy as the pair cannot seem to agree on renewing the long-term deal.
As we covered a while back, a New York Times report claimed that negotiations between the two companies had stalled, with the sticking points being EA’s demands for wider-reaching rights and FIFA’s desire to double the current payment to $2.5 billion over the next decade. FIFA claims that the cost should go up as the revenue EA generates from the licence has scaled dramatically as microtransactions have become more popular.
Shortly after the New York Times report surfaced in October, Wilson held an internal company meeting to explain EA's position. Details of that meeting have been shared with VGC.
When asked in the meeting why EA would even consider ending the deal with FIFA, Wilson said:
I’m going to be more open… more open than I’ve been with the outside world. We’ve had a great relationship with FIFA over the past 30-odd years. We’ve created billions in value… it’s just huge. We’ve created one of the biggest entertainment properties on the planet.
I would argue – and this may be a little biased – that the FIFA brand has more meaning as a video game than it does a governing body of soccer. We don’t take that for granted and we try not to be arrogant. We’ve worked really hard to try and make FIFA understand what we need for the future.
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.
In a World Cup year of course, we get access to the World Cup, but in the broader context of global football on an annualised basis, the World Cup is important but it’s not the most important. We have 300 other licences that give us the content that our players engage with the most and the most deeply.
Wilson even went as far as to claim that the FIFA licence has actually held back EA's ambitions for its video game series:
As we’ve looked to the future we want to grow the franchise, and ironically the FIFA licence has actually been an impediment to that.
Our players tell us they want more cultural and commercial brands relevant to them in their markets, more deeply embedded in the game… brands like Nike. But because FIFA has a relationship with Adidas, we are not able to do that.
Our players tell us they want more modes of play, different things beyond 11v11 and different types of gameplay. I would tell you, it’s been a fight to get FIFA to acknowledge the types of things that we want to create, because they say our licence only covers certain categories.
Our players want us to expand into the digital ecosystem more broadly… our fans are telling us they want us to go and participate in that space.
Our FIFA licence 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.
Our players are telling us they want us to move really quick: ‘we want you guys doing stuff fast’. And in order to do that, we need a level of freedom to be truly creative, innovative and experiment in the marketplace.
Because of the nature of the approval timetables and the various things around our FIFA licence, that’s actually been really hard and we’re moving much slower than we want.
He adds that EA won't be held to ransom when it comes to the amount of money FIFA is expecting to be paid for the rights:
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 licence 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’.
Wilson does state that EA is keen to continue the relationship and is making every effort – but, if it doesn't happen, it might actually be better for the company and its fanbase:
At the end of the day, I don’t know if we’re going to get there. 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.
We’re going to work through this, we’re going to be thoughtful and we want to be good partners with FIFA, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we ultimately move in a different direction. At the end of the day, I think that might even be better for our gamers than continuing with those four letters on the box.
Should negotiations fail, it could be that the upcoming FIFA 23 will be the final game in EA's line to have the FIFA brand on the box. The 10-year deal expires after the World Cup, which takes place in Qatar later this year.
EA has already pointed out that, should it lose the licence, it will retain all of the other league, player and stadium licences it already has in place. FIFA responded with its own statement, claiming that it was open to working with other video game companies should the deal not be renewed.