FIFA huffs and puffs with the EA situation, but it really can't afford to
A divorce that seems inevitable does not have to be ugly, has it?
It's not often that we get to have some fun with the modern entertainment companies themselves instead of their products - but this is exactly what's happening in the last few days with one of the greatest video game publishers in the world, Electronic Arts, and FIFA, the "non-profit" organization that describes itself as the governing body of football around the world. In a rare case of a financial negotiation that turned into a public spat, EA and FIFA are seemingly threatening each other with a divorce after 28 years of marriage. As is sometimes the case with real marriages though, one of the two has far more to lose than the other.
It all began when FIFA, per a New York Times report, decided to ask for more than double the amount of money is currently extracting from EA in order for the latter to use the FIFA brand on its games cover. FIFA is also said to have asked for "an EA exclusivity on a smaller scale" so as to be able to pursue more revenue opportunities. Electronic Arts did not exactly like either term, so - probably after a few rounds of unfruitful negotiations - let slip to the press that it’s considering all options, including abandoning the FIFA brand altogether and renaming its iconic game franchise to something else (EA actually trademarked the name "EA Sports FC" at the beginning of October).
What followed was a reaction akin to that of an insecure, jealous, high-maintenance person who was just informed that his/her current sex partner is considering seeing other people. "FIFA is bullish and optimistic about its long-term future in gaming and esports following a comprehensive and strategic assessment of the gaming and interactive entertainment market," announced FIFA. "It is clear that this needs to be a space that is occupied by more than one party controlling all rights", it added. The announcement could just as well read: "Oh yeah? Oh yeah? Me too, then!"
What is far clearer to many, though, is that this is the kind of bluff that FIFA cannot really afford: in this unusual stare contest it's Electronic Arts who has the upper hand. Not only has EA managed to almost make this brand name synonymous with its own video game franchise after a quarter of a century, but FIFA does not really offer all that much to each new version of it anyway. What FIFA actually owns is the rights for the use of international football teams in EA's game which, well, everyone who actually plays FIFA knows is not what most people care about. Most people care about their favorite players, clubs and leagues, which EA's game can and will continue to offer with or without the FIFA license. Outside of the World Cup every four years, FIFA is not that important to EA's game.
FIFA, meanwhile, has no experience on how to leverage its brand name in the video game world and, taking a look at that world for a bit, it's clear that there are no other players capable of offering FIFA the same exposure (or fees). EA can live without FIFA: it wouldn't be the first or last rebranding of a major video game franchise anyway (plus "EA Sports FC" does not sound bad at all). FIFA cannot hope to find a partner or even partners that can fully replace EA, though. It is just that simple.
What's to become of all this, then? Well, the EA-FIFA partnership does not run out until sometime during 2022, but it's obvious that both have to make a decision before 2021 is out or during Q1 2022 at the latest (there's the Qatar 2022 World Cup to consider after all). While there's always a chance that this might lead to an uneasy compromise, like the one Sony and Disney made two years ago with Spider-man, just like that agreement it seems that the EA-FIFA divorce is inevitable. Electronic Arts would be wise not to let this drag any more than it absolutely has to. Like a marriage that has run it's course, it's probably best for everyone.