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EA Sports, FIFA split in '23 not expected to drastically alter game itself

Video game players "will have to get used to a new name" for EA's soccer series, which will drop its "FIFA" licensing and become "EA Sports FC" in '23, but the game itself "will not change much," according to Tariq Panja of the N.Y. TIMES. The decades-old partnership between soccer's governing body and the developer is ending, and the continuation of the game "does not alter the seismic nature of the rebranding." To millions of people around the world, the letters FIFA represent "not actual soccer but instead a one-word shorthand for a video-game series." Now, the World Cup and other FIFA-controlled events "will no longer be included" in the game. The "writing had been on the wall" for a split for months. While the dispute was "undoubtedly rooted in part in different financial expectations -- FIFA was seeking at least double the $150 million it gets annually from EA Sports, its biggest commercial partner -- it also quickly became clear there were different expectations." Sources said that FIFA "demanded the ability to attach its brand to other digital products, including other video games." That proved to be a "step too far for EA Sports." Part of EA's calculation was the "steep hurdles any challenger will face in testing EA's dominance in the market." For FIFA, a break with EA represents a "risk" for President Gianni Infantino, who will run for a third term as president (N.Y. TIMES, 5/11).

WRITING ON THE WALL: The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Alex Weprin noted while EA Sports yesterday reported strong earnings and outlined a plan for what comes next post-FIFA, the FIFA deal was "still top of mind for the company." EA Sports FC will create "more tailored experiences to local markets, where needed, like for LaLiga in Spain, Bundesliga in Germany, and Premier League in the U.K." FIFA emphasized the "flexibility it now has, with the EA deal over." The organization said that it is "already in development on 'non-simulation' FIFA-branded games ... for release this year." Still, it is "hard to ignore the impact of the FIFA games produced by EA Sports." The game company cited FIFA as a "key growth driver in full game bookings, with 'FIFA 22' being 'the most successful' in the game's 20 year history." FIFA benefitted from EA Sports' long history in sports simulation. Weprin: "More partners mean more games, but if the games don't live up to the high bar of EA's FIFA games, it could backfire." Whoever FIFA chooses to produce upcoming simulation games, they "will have to build something from scratch and compete with EA's new FC offering, with EA using its two decades of soccer simulation technology" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 5/10). CNBC’s Steve Kovach said the breakup with FIFA is "a huge hit to one of EA’s most lucrative and iconic gaming franchises” (“The Exchange,” CNBC, 5/10).

VIRTUALLY UNCHANGED: In DC, Michael Errigo wonders, "Will the game change? Probably not much." Thanks to separate licensing agreements, EA Sports "can keep most of its features even after its breakup with FIFA." Among those agreements are a "deal with FIFPRO," the global players union, that was recently renewed and "will allow the game to maintain player names and likenesses." EA Sports also has deals with the EPL, Bundesliga, LaLiga and UEFA Champions League, among others. Each organization released comments of support to go with EA Sports' announcement yesterday (WASHINGTON POST, 5/11).

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