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EA Sports makes a $600 million bid for the Premier League – will it pay off?

Industry Commentary

EA Sports, the publisher best known for its FIFA, NHL and Madden games, ended its licensing partnership with FIFA last year. This left fans wondering which football leagues would appear in EA’s next football game, EA Sports FC. The potential answer?  Sky Sports reported last week that EA is closing in on an exclusive deal worth nearly $600 million with the Premier League. This deal is reportedly more than double the amount that EA was paying during its partnership with FIFA. 

This type of exclusive partnership is not unprecedented in the video game industry, as similar deals have been made between other sports leagues and game developers in the past. However, the unique value of this particular deal lies in the popularity and global appeal of the Premier League, which makes it a highly sought-after property for game developers.

If closed, the deal will mean EA Sports remains the league’s lead partner for its first football release after the FIFA split, EA Sports FC. So, what can this deal tell us about the future success of EA Sports FC and the value of the Premier League licence? And where does all of this leave FIFA? 

We can get some hints from looking back at the relationship between EA and FIFA. Despite a partnership spanning close to 30 years, EA had been openly questioning its relationship with FIFA before the split, with EA’s CEO Andrew Wilson saying in an internal meeting that the FIFA licence had been “an impediment” and was holding EA’s ambition for the series back. 

According to documents seen by Video Games Chronicle, Wilson said: 

“As we’ve looked to the future we want to grow the franchise, and ironically the FIFA licence has actually been an impediment to that. 

“Our players tell us they want more cultural and commercial brands relevant to them in their markets, more deeply embedded in the game… brands like Nike. But because FIFA has a relationship with Adidas, we are not able to do that.

Wilson also claimed the FIFA licence was limiting EA’s ability to diversify the game by adding gameplay mechanics, expanding beyond the traditional 11 v 11 matches. He concluded: 

“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.”

$600 million might seem like an extraordinary amount of money, but EA’s Ultimate Team, an additional game mode that lets players build their own dream teams using characters from the FIFA, NFL and NHL series, generates an additional $1 billion for EA every year and generated $1.62 billion in 2021

As Wilson mentions, FIFA’s existing partnerships with brands, such as Adidas, mean that EA Sports didn’t have full control of the game’s partnerships. Now that EA Sports is no longer associated with FIFA, the publisher has complete autonomy. Given the popularity of both the Premier League and EA Sports, there are plenty of brands that will want to partner with EA Sports FC. 

Due to the power balances in football, the Premier League is strengthening its position as the most influential and powerful League within world football. Eleven Premier League clubs make up the top 20 in the Deloitte Money League study from the 2021-22 season, proving international leagues such as Bundesliga, La Liga, Eredivisie, and Ligue 1 have not got the same commercial strength as the Premier League. It’s this commercial strength that means Premier League clubs are able to attract the strongest commercial partnerships.  

EA’s deal with the Premier League will solidify the company’s association with football and shows FIFA’s brand strength might not be as powerful as they think it is. It’s also worth noting that the IP of the Premier League is far more accessible than FIFA’s; World Cup 2026 host cities are permitted to sell their own sponsorships, but they’re not allowed to use FIFA’s World Cup IP.

As for where this new deal leaves FIFA, it’s free to negotiate with any existing video game company for a football game. However, none are more established than EA. The popularity of its nearest competitor, Konami’s PES (Pro Evolution Soccer), has declined rapidly. The game’s rebrand to free-to-play eFootball was viewed as a critical failure because of the game’s myriad of bugs and glitches at launch.

That said, eFootball recently announced its introducing 97 licensed teams across England, Spain, Italy, and France, a substantial improvement on the 26 licensed teams that were originally in the game, showing the market for football licenses is heating up. 

At face value, EA Sports separating itself from FIFA after nearly 30 years may have seemed like a risk. However, EA’s existing relationships with football teams, commercial partners and IP holders, not to mention a large dedicated player base, mean the publisher is in a very strong position.


Read the episode transcript here

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