EA Sports won’t be releasing a new college football video game in 2021, but the company has promised that such a game is in the works. According to Daryl Holt, vice president of EA Sports, it will “eventually” be released. From now on it is planned to start the game without names, pictures or similarities of players.
Why is EA Sports ready to resume the college football franchise after a hiatus of more than eight years? There are some explanations.
First, EA Sports was able to close an agreement with CLC, the licensing department for Learfield IMG College. It gives EA Sports the opportunity to leverage the intellectual property of more than 100 teams. That was certainly a requirement for today’s announcement.
Second, EA Sports reads the writing on the wall and is likely to believe that the NCAA’s current ban on college athletes from commercially exploiting their names, images, and likeness until a game is available to order will be lifted. EA Sports may take the approach of creating and selling a game with players who do not resemble the real-life athletes at universities across the country, but in reality it is aware of the need to create virtual athletes who have the same or similar ones Properties like their real counterparts.
Therein lies a legal dilemma for EA Sports. Create a game that includes virtual players who don’t look and feel like the real players on a team in a way that it will lose consumer interest. Start a game with players who are nameless but as heavy and tall as their real-life counterparts, are of the same race and wear the same jersey number. This will create a splash among consumers itching to return to EA college, soccer franchise, but it also opens the door to exposure for abuse of athletes’ advertising rights.
Because of this, group licensing remains an integral part of the successful reintroduction of college football video game for EA Sports. It’s also why EA Sports no less than Congressional or NCAA action is enough to acquire these important licenses. EA Sports would be required to enter into individual player contracts beginning July 1, 2021, starting with Florida athletes, unless college athletes across the country are granted advertising rights. That is neither feasible nor manageable.
But EA Sports may have a problem with less than Congressional action. The NCAA has previously taken the public stance that it does not advocate group licensing of names, images, and likenesses of athletes. If the NCAA doesn’t change its stance, EA Sports could also use Congress for law that doesn’t restrict group licensing and allow EA Sports to promote a game that will benefit EA Sports, consumers, and college athletes. It is time.
Darren Heitner is the founder of Heitner Legal. He is the author of How to Play the Game: What Every Sports Lawyer Needs to Know, published by the American Bar Association, and is an associate professor at Levin College of Law, University of Florida. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @DarrenHeitner.