Business as Usual or Significant Change in the Football Video Game Industry?

By on August 21, 2013 12:42 pm
Institute of Sports Law and Ethics

The NCAA recently announced that it would not renew its licensing contract with Electronic Arts, a contract that has allowed EA to use the NCAA name and brand in its popular college football video games. EA’s current product, NCAA Football 14, is reportedly more popular with gamers than the previous version, but whatever EA calls the next iteration of its game, it will not include the word “NCAA.”

Time will tell if losing the NCAA brand will have any effect on the marketplace reaction to the game, but it is clear that the NCAA is attempting to distance itself from a product that is based on the uncompensated use of the images and likenesses of student-athletes. If you have followed college athletics recently, you may be aware of the issues surrounding the use of images and likenesses of student-athletes as put forward in the O’Bannon case.  For a helpful summary of O’Bannon, please see this article.

The NCAA downplayed the significance of its decision to exit the football video game, as did EA, but in my view the NCAA decision is significant in terms of the message it sends concerning the potential ramifications of the O’Bannon case.  The NCAA is worried, as I think it should be.

Soon after the NCAA announced its intention to sever ties with EA, the Pac 12, SEC and Big 10 conferences announced that they also would sever their contractual ties with EA when their current contracts expire.

But more important than what a conference decides, the key pieces to this enterprise (other than the actual football players, of course) are the universities themselves. The obvious question is whether any universities, who typically work with Collegiate Licensing Company to manage and license their brands, also will conclude that it is in their best interests to step away from the video game business, at least until the potential legal issues are more settled.

As this is written, no institution has indicated a desire to exit the football video game business with EA. The SEC rules college football today, so we will watch with interest the actions of SEC members in particular regarding their participation in the EA video game.

I’m not a gamer, but in reading many online comments of gamers regarding what they look for in a video game, whatever the sport, the word “realism” is constantly cited. Gamers want a product that is as close to the real experience as possible. Of course, the more a video character’s avatar matches the real person, the better, which brings us back to the issues in O’Bannon.  Should former student-athletes share in the revenues of the gaming company? What about current student-athletes? And where will all this leave the NCAA as other revenue streams (most notably television and merchandise sales) potentially are impacted in future litigation?

I’m interested in your thoughts. Please contact me at mgilleran@scu.edu.

Thanks.

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