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EA CEO explains why company may ditch FIFA branding in leaked staff comments

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‘What we get from FIFA in a non-World Cup year is the four letters on the front of the box’

In this photo illustration, a PlayStation (PS) controller... Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In newly-leaked comments, EA CEO Andrew Wilson has explained why the company is considering ending its licensing deal with FIFA. The comments come after EA publicly announced in October it was reviewing its agreement with FIFA, and considering renaming the title of its popular soccer franchise. The comments, which are the CEO’s most candid remarks yet, were made in a company meeting last November and made public in a report from VGC this week.

Wilson suggested that EA feels its FIFA branding deal is unnecessarily restrictive, while not providing enough value to the company. “Basically, what we get from FIFA in a non-World Cup year is the four letters on the front of the box,” Wilson said. Although its FIFA deal gets EA access to the World Cup every four years, the company also has over 300 other licensing agreements which allow it to use the names and likenesses of players, teams, and leagues without needing a deal with FIFA.

Wilson suggested that in return the FIFA deal imposes restrictions on what EA can do with its games. It’s struggled to build game modes beyond 11v11 matches; to partner with other non-FIFA affiliated brands; or to “expand more deeply and broadly into the digital ecosystems around the fabric of football,” according to Wilson. Last year, the New York Times reported that EA is fighting with FIFA to be able to expand into other areas like showing highlights of real-world games, and offer digital items like NFTs.

“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. EA did not immediately respond to The Verge’s request for comment.

The NYT previously reported that the cost of the deal is also a key factor in EA and FIFA’s negotiations. FIFA reportedly wants more than double what it currently gets from EA, bringing the value of the deal to over $1 billion over four years. But EA’s CEO sought to play down the cost of the deal as the reason the company might walk away from it. “We don’t want to pay more money than this license is worth,” Wilson said. “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.”

According to the NYT, EA and FIFA’s current 10-year deal is set to expire after this year’s World Cup in Qatar, which is due to run between November 21st and December 18th. EA hasn’t officially announced what it might call its soccer games if it loses the rights to the FIFA name, but the NYT previously reported that it had trademarked the phrase EA Sports FC in the UK and EU in October.