FIFA takes on EA Sports video game in football’s new rivalry

LONDON (AP) — The name “FIFA” brings to mind images of the World Cup and football’s greatest players, such as Pele, Zinedine Zidane or Lionel Messi. The acronym for the sport’s governing body may also bring to mind blatant bribery and corruption.

However, for many it is the video game that is synonymous with FIFA.

For three decades, the Swiss-based football organization has had a thriving, mutually beneficial relationship with EA Sports. The annual edition of the video game, in addition to related products, has brought in billions of dollars and has proved so lucrative that FIFA believes it can earn even more on its own.

FIFA signed a license agreement with Electronic Arts Inc. on Tuesday. broken, making FIFA23 the last new EA game with the involvement of both parties.

They now become opponents.

EA will continue to make football games with the best players and biggest teams, they will simply be stripped of the FIFA brand and be called EA Sports FC instead.

Perhaps confusingly, FIFA24 should hit shelves next year as well, as the football body is determined to go ahead with its own launch.

EA has already started highlighting its advantages over the FIFA game as it has the rights to showcase 19,000 players from over 700 teams in over 30 leagues in 100 stadiums. Manchester United, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain will still be there, along with their best players.

“That’s the only place you can have an authentic, famous and fully representative football experience,” David Jackson, brand vice president for EA SPORTS FIFA, told The Associated Press. “I think there is an element of potential confusion in the market.”

FIFA’s hyperbole is already trying to undermine EA’s marketing by claiming it is in talks with multiple rival game companies and has plans to enter the metaverse.

“I can assure you,” said FIFA President Gianni Infantino, “that the only authentic, real game bearing the FIFA name will be the best for gamers and football fans.”

How that will happen is far from clear, although FIFA does own the rights to the biggest football show in the world. The World Cup will disappear from the EA game.

“The FIFA name is the only global, original title,” said Infantino. “FIFA 23, FIFA 24, FIFA 25 and FIFA 26 and so on – the constant is the FIFA name and it will stay forever and remain the best.”

That kind of bombastic talk is pressuring FIFA to carry out Infantino’s vision for a game to take over the EA franchise, despite not having the rights to play leagues like the Premier League — and the teams that play in it.

“New entrants would face a steep licensing curve to compete with EA,” said Andrew Marok, digital media industry analyst at investment bank Raymond James.

Football gaming is big business for EA. The annual report released this week showed revenue of $6.19 billion.

“We just had our biggest year ever for EA SPORTS FIFA games,” EA Sports CEO Andrew Wilson told investors on Wednesday, a day after it was announced that the FIFA deal would end at the end of the year.

Much of the revenue comes from Ultimate Team mode, where customers purchase additional content in EA sports games. That yielded 1.623 billion dollars in 2021.

“We’ve historically derives a significant portion of our net income from the sale of our largest and most popular game, FIFA, whose annual releases are consistently among the best-selling games on the market,” EA told investors.

Brand loyalty will be key starting next year. Will gamers stick with EA’s rebranded product or jump to the rival launched by FIFA?

It’s already a competitive market with eFootball, the former Pro Evolution Soccer game produced by the Japanese company Konami. That game has a partnership with Manchester United, although the record 20-time English champions will still appear in the game from EA via a Premier League deal.

EA has already warned its investors about the risks posed by rivals to its football gaming business.

“Any events or circumstances that adversely affect our FIFA franchise, such as product or service quality, other products that consume a portion of consumer spending and time, the delay or cancellation of the launch of a product or service, increased competition for major licenses, or real or perceived security risks, could disproportionately adversely affect our financial results,” EA said in its annual report.

EA should gain an edge over FIFA by retaining its 300 licensing partners, 30 leagues and federations, 700 teams and 19,000 athletes, JPMorgan analyst David Karnovsky said in a customer note.

“While it’s hard to imagine the brand shift to sales won’t have at least some impact, the $150 million available to FIFA through the lack of a license fee leaves plenty of room for marketing to spread awareness around EA Sports FC. magnify,” Karnovsky wrote.

Breaking away from the world of football politics has its advantages for EA. Tensions between regional confederations have led European UEFA and its South American counterpart CONMEBOL to sidestep FIFA to host their own champions’ meeting. At the debut of the Finalissima, Italy and Argentina meet on June 1 at Wembley Stadium in London. It seems inappropriate for EA to promote its FIFA game during the match.

“What name would we put on a perimeter board at a UEFA CONMEBOL event? It’s very hard for us to put FIFA on there,” said Jackson, EA’s vice president of brand. “What used to be a springboard for our brand, and an accelerator for it many years ago, just becomes less over time valuable to us.”

EA might as well have saved the FIFA brand. The fond association with the video game by so many fans has weighed against the toxicity of the Sepp Blatter-era organization after the opening of extensive criminal investigations into football corruption in 2015.

“If you ask a young football fan what FIFA is, they are more likely to say a video game than they are the global governing body, but that value lives with us I believe,” Jackson said. “We’re the predominant voice in football from an interactive entertainment perspective, and we don’t see a world where that changes.”

Associated Press writer Michelle Chapman in New York contributed to this report.

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