Electronic Arts is ending a 30-year partnership with Fifa, calling time on one of the most popular games partnerships in history after months of negotiations between the video game company and the football governing body.
California-based EA will rename its game EA Sports FC after the women’s World Cup next summer. The content will remain largely unchanged, with the same leagues, tournaments, clubs and athletes.
“This new independent platform will bring fresh opportunity — to innovate, create and evolve,” Cam Weber, executive vice-president of EA Sports, said in a statement. “We exist to create the future of football fandom — whether virtual or real, digital or physical, it’s all football.”
The breakdown of the relationship is a sign of how one of the world’s leading sports governing bodies is seeking to make more digital revenue to complement income from the men’s World Cup, while capitalising on the popularity of the video game.
Despite the long and profitable collaboration, EA and Zurich-headquartered Fifa had been locked in a dispute over the value of the Fifa brand. EA had trademarked the name EA Sports FC last year, seemingly in preparation for discussions to break down.
More details on the future of EA Sports FC are expected next summer.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino said: “I can assure you that the only authentic, real game that has the Fifa name will be the best one available for gamers and football fans. The Fifa name is the only global, original title. Fifa 23, Fifa 24, Fifa 25 and Fifa 26, and so on — the constant is the Fifa name and it will remain forever and remain the best.”
Fifa makes roughly $150mn a year from the partnership, its largest commercial deal outside of running the quadrennial men’s World Cup.
The video game is EA’s “largest and most popular”, according to the company’s annual report, with about 150mn players. Gamers pay up to $70 for the new version on consoles and PC each year, and free-to-play versions are also available on mobile.
The Fifa Ultimate Team mode, which allows gamers to compete online and spend money upgrading their football squads, generated a “substantial portion” of $1.6bn in net revenues in the year ending March 31 2021, according to EA’s annual report, accounting for roughly 29 per cent of total net revenue. Fifa Ultimate Team players grew 16 per cent in 2021.
Some of the world’s biggest football tournament organisers backed EA, in a boost to the games developer, which relies on licensing agreements to feature the branding of top leagues, teams and star players.
Richard Masters, chief executive of the Premier League in England, the world’s richest domestic football division, called EA a “long-term and valued partner”, while La Liga president Javier Tebas said the Spanish league was “committed to partnering with EA Sports FC . . . for years to come”.
Europe’s Uefa, which organises the elite Champions League tournament, and Conmebol, organiser of South America’s Copa Libertadores, also voiced their support.
EA’s sports portfolio also includes partnerships with Madden NFL for American football, ice hockey’s National Hockey League, Formula 1 car racing and UFC for mixed martial arts competitions.
Lifestyle simulation game The Sims 4 and Apex Legends, a free-to-play battle royale mobile game, are among EA’s other popular titles. In April last year, it acquired games publisher Glu Mobile for $2.4bn, best known for its Kim Kardashian animated role-play game.