Update (26th November, 2020): The footballer rights row is showing no signs of slowing, with both FIFPro and agents like Mino Raiola joining the discussion. First, the response from FIFPro, embedded below:
In light of recent media reports, FIFPro wishes to clarify the manner in which it obtains the image rights of players, and its role in defending the employment rights of professional footballers worldwide. FIFPro, a not-for-profit organisation, acquires image rights via player unions in nearly 60 countries. These rights are made available to Electronic Arts and other clients in the video gaming industry. FIFPro’s relationship with the video gaming companies complements separate arrangements they directly agree with clubs, leagues, governing bodies, and individual players. FIFPro member unions decide how best to use the revenue generated, either by distributing funds directly among players or providing services in kind such as legal advice, second-career planning, and mental and physical assistance. FIFPro is reaching out to the players and their representation that have recently raised concerns so we can address their questions. As the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacts the football industry, we are proud of our member unions for having supported tens of thousands of footballers around the world.
Meanwhile, Mino Raiola – a big-shot agent who represents a number of high-profile footballers, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba – from weighing in on the situation. Earlier in the week, he posted the following on Twitter earlier in the week:
That's prompted EA Sports to release the following statement:
Mino Raiola is a respected player representative who we have partnered with for many years, including this year when our relationship ensured his client Erling Haaland would be part of our FIFA 21 marketing campaign. We have also enjoyed a great working relationship with Zlatan Ibrahimović, who has appeared in every FIFA since 2002 and regularly received awards as part of our FUT experience. Gareth Bale’s eSports Company Elleven utilises our FIFA game as a key platform for his professional eSports athletes and we’re confident Gareth and his team see significant value in our partnership, as evidenced through this recently released content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERNNZv-bBWk
There's no sign of this row dying down just yet, but the latest round of statements should at least temporarily quell the conversation.
Update (25th November, 2020): EA Sports has sent us a strongly worded statement in response to the player rights row exploding on social media this week. It told us that recent events are an attempt to drag FIFA 21 into "a dispute between a number of 3rd parties and has little to do with EA Sports".
Here's its statement in full:
We are aware of discussions around licensing of players in EA Sports FIFA. The current situation being played out on social media is an attempt to draw FIFA 21 into a dispute between a number of 3rd parties and has little to do with EA Sports.
To be very clear, we have contractual rights to include the likeness of all players currently in our game. As already stated, we acquire these licenses directly from leagues, teams, and individual players. In addition, we work with FIFPro to ensure we can include as many players as we can to create the most authentic game. In these instances, our rights to player likenesses are granted through our club agreement with AC Milan and our long-standing exclusive partnership with the Premier League, which includes all players for Tottenham Hotspur.
So, effectively, it's saying that it's fulfilling its legal obligations, and that players would be better taking issue with the organisations selling their rights and not the game itself. That seems fair. All the same, this row looks set to rumble on.
Original Story: It was all looking like a routine week for EA Sports and FIFA 21, until AC Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic took to social media. The iconic forward – who once scored a bicycle kick from outside the penalty area against England – said it was “time to investigate” the use of his name and likeness in the uber-popular football game. Tottenham winger Gareth Bale quickly followed with a similar comment. And now The Athletic reports that, while there’s currently no coordinated effort from professionals, more are poised to object to the title’s use of their names and likenesses in the game.
Image rights are a complicated issue for sports, and it’s why we’ve seen a huge decline in tennis games in recent years. With titles like Tennis World Tour 2, the rights need to be negotiated for each player individually, which is an enormous headache for publishers. Leagues like the NFL and NBA have Player Associations, which license out the names and likenesses of the sport’s top talent, where football is governed by FIFPro.
However, it seems that by and large those image rights are offloaded to individual leagues, such as the Premier League and La Liga. Of Europe’s top five leagues, only Serie A has not collectivised its video game rights. EA Sports says that it has an individual deal with AC Milan, which is why Zlatan Ibrahimovic can be included in the game. Sustained pressure from professionals could, however, in theory put pressure on how these contracts are negotiated.
It’s definitely interesting stuff. Licensing is obviously a huge selling-point for FIFA, not just because of its offline modes, but also because of Ultimate Team; cards are coveted because they’re based on real-world professionals. Legally, we have to imagine EA Sports is doing everything above board here, but increased scrutiny is the last thing it needs as it continues to battle governments globally over its use of microtransactions as well.