For many football fans, EA Sports FIFA played a significant role in their fandom; fans have immersed themselves with their favourite players, clubs, countries, and even stadiums through the game. So EA’s decision to step away from FIFA licensing left people wondering what the future of sports games would look like, particularly with well documented objections to FIFPro (A FIFA entity) licensing from football players – the most high profiled objections coming from global stars Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gareth Bale.
Many fans felt that by losing FIFA, EA Sports would also lose access to using real life profiles of players, clubs, and even stadiums, something which has placed FIFA’s popularity ahead of other football games such as Pro Evolution Soccer (or eFootball as it now known).
With the expiration set to be official from August next year, EA Sport hasn’t rested on its laurels. Starting in the 2023-2024 season, EA Sports has agreed to a multi-year agreement with La Liga which is set to pave the way for new fan experiences, deeper in-game integrations, enhanced broadcast communications, and even an agreement to develop the grassroots level in Spain, solidifying the EA brand name amongst a new generation of players and fans.
EA Sports have had a long-standing partnership with the Premier League and have been a Lead Partner since the 2016/17 season, so are familiar with partnerships in Football. However, with the emergence as title sponsor of La Liga, the second most watched league in the world, EA Sports are in uncharted territory and are pioneering a potential future for the gaming and sporting industry.
This move brings EA into a new light for existing and new fans, raising the profile of the game company even further amongst international audiences. Ultimately, sponsoring a football team is seen as a significant status symbol for a company and achieves a level of exposure and brand recognition that is achieved by very few companies.
This agreement places the groundwork and offers the potential for others to follow in the footsteps of EA. Traditionally, football has seen a variety of gaming companies appear as the main sponsors of clubs. Nintendo, Sony, Sega, and Eidos have all been iconic sponsorships for many of the most recognizable teams in the world including Juventus, Arsenal, and Manchester City.
Yet, in more recent years, the relationship between gaming and football clubs has fallen away. There is the notable exception in Everton FC, who signed a sponsorship agreement with mobile game giants Rovio, and showcased their flagship game Angry Birds for an estimated £3 million. However, the sponsorship caused outrage amongst fans and was ultimately not extended beyond its original terms.
Over the past few years, betting companies have taken the mantle and have been relentless in their sponsorship of football, particularly in the English pyramid. However, as debated by the government, football needs to have a social responsibility and should proactively be seeking future sponsorship opportunities that will disassociate the long-standing relationship between football and betting.
This presents a major opportunity for gaming and the games industry. With EA Sports being the pioneers, there is now a clear pathway that has emerged. After all, the brand loyalty of football fans is unprecedented due to the nature of the sport. Does EA’s sponsorship of La Liga herald a new era where other gaming studios will follow suit? Football as an industry is at a breaking point culturally and is looking to escape the wraths of betting sponsors, just like they have previously done with their alcohol sponsorships. Expect more deals like this in the future.