FIFA, the video game franchise that has bred thousands of soccer fans across the United States, will no longer be known as "FIFA" beginning in July 2023 — and could have a new competitor called ... "FIFA."
EA Sports, the game's developer, announced Tuesday that it would end its partnership with soccer's global governing body, FIFA, after which the lucrative franchise has been named since the 1990s.
The game will continue, mostly unchanged, as "EA Sports FC." Hundreds of clubs and national soccer federations will maintain licensing deals with EA Sports. The likes of Liverpool, Real Madrid, the U.S. national teams, and nearly every internationally relevant team will still feature in the game, as they have for decades.
But negotiations between EA Sports and FIFA failed to yield a renewal of their longstanding partnership, leaving the video game with an identity crisis and the governing body without one of the few positive associations that its four-letter acronym carries.
Then, two hours after EA Sports announced the split, FIFA, the governing body, seemed to suggest that it would develop or attach its name to a rival game.
"FIFA," the EA Sports game, among American millennials and Gen Z, had become a cross-cultural phenomenon, a habit and pastime that linked obsessive gamers, sports fans, and school-age kids of all ilks to soccer. It transformed many of them into followers of the world's most popular sport. EA Sports once claimed that 34% of U.S. users "became pro soccer fans after playing the video game," and 50% of all stateside players were more interested in the sport as a result.
"EA Sports FIFA is increasing the popularity of soccer in the USA," it boasted.
Others agreed. A Major League Soccer executive once said that "65% of avid MLS fans highlight FIFA as a driver of their interest in soccer."
“Gaming," the executive, James Ruth, said in 2019, "is actually more important to us than people playing soccer itself.”
To those fans, and millions more worldwide, and even to many professional soccer players, "FIFA" referred to this uber-popular game, not to the global governing body regularly embroiled in crises. That governing body, however, believed that its brand had contributed to the game's popularity — to more than 300 million copies sold, and to $20 billion in revenue for EA Sports.
So, in negotiations with EA Sports, FIFA reportedly sought over $300 million annually from the company, more than double the $150 million that it currently commands from EA Sports for naming rights; for use of branded competitions, such as the World Cup, in the game; and more.
EA Sports balked at FIFA's ask, and decided to move in a new direction. With most of the sport's biggest brands still under its umbrella, it announced the new "EA SPORTS FC" name. Its news release included supportive statements from the English Premier League, Spain's La Liga, Germany's Bundesliga, the European governing body UEFA, the South American governing body CONMEBOL, and Nike.
In the immediate aftermath, prominent clubs and national teams tweeted a similarly supportive, coordinated message, referencing the new "FC," or "football club," branding: "We're in the club."
Materially, because those clubs are still aboard, the franchise will roll on. Gameplay will continue to evolve. The EA Sports machine will churn out new features, and millions of copies, every year.
But the simple, two-syllable acronym that became synonymous with addictive fun, and that accompanied the video game's rise every step of the way, will disappear on covers.
It could stick around in gamer and soccer lexicon, of course, but the governing body will be free to license its "FIFA" brand elsewhere.
FIFA said in its own release that "a number of new non-simulation games are already under production," and promised to launch "a tailored gaming experience" and "further games and virtual experiences" ahead of the 2022 men's World Cup, which begins in November, and the 2023 Women's World Cup.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino, in a statement, seemed to push back against the assumption that EA Sports' game will reign as the near-ubiquitous standard-bearer.
"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," Infantino said. "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."