Amid Corruption and Criticism The King of Sports Franchises Faces New Challenges

Posted June 2nd, 2015 at 4:30 pm


The last week has been eventful to say the least in the world of FIFA. Not only were top executives in the organization arrested on corruption charges, and the video game associated with the governing body of the sport having announced that women would be in the product with FIFA 16 for the first time, but today FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced his resignation after just being reelected to the position on Friday.

On one front EA Sports finds themselves in a situation where they have the biggest selling video game in the world but now, more than ever, their brand is tied to the organization that has the worst reputation of any major sport. One which is in the news every day for the wrong reasons. EA has refused to comment on any matter, whether it be the slave labor and deaths in Qatar to the criminal actions in question, even as many sponsors distance themselves or go as far as voiding deals that were in place. While all of this is unlikely to affect sales numbers of the video game it’s undoubtedly a distraction and disrupts the marketing plan. 

That was evident when the announcement regarding the Women’s National Teams was made, with some absolutely coincidental but nonetheless terrible timing, just a day after the first wave of arrests were made. Naturally many commented on the criminal element of the sport being part of the game – for authenticity sake of course! – and they didn’t want to have a product with the FIFA name being marketed to them like nothing else was going on.

The addition of women to the franchise was long overdue and will almost certainly prove to be popular. EA must always consider ways to expand their potential consumer base and they had been ignoring a huge one by giving them nothing to relate with in the games. It was a smart business decision and one that will be good for both the product as a whole and for consumers. Alex Morgan will probably be on the cover in the US, with Lionel Messi and a US national male player sharing the spotlight. It’s that big of a deal.

Still the implementation of the women’s teams leaves a lot to be desired. No, maybe they shouldn’t be able to play men’s teams, but considering that the company stated in 2013 they didn’t want to just add them in without giving them a “meaningful inclusion in a main game mode” – in their own words they’ve failed. And if they didn’t do it this year, in which they could attempt to capitalize on the excitement of the World Cup, will they have the motivation to expand on their place in the series next year or in those that follow? That’s a legitimate concern.


The women’s teams can only be used in offline exhibitions, offline tournaments (there’s only 12 teams, half of the 24 in the Women’s World Cup), and Online Friendlies. A female character can’t be created for Career Mode and none of the players will be available in Ultimate Team. Both modes would seem to be natural fits for them given their fantasy-nature.

Reaction to the debut of women’s teams in FIFA 16 has been mixed. For the most part people are pleased with them being added but less so with the extent to which they’ll be able to use them. Kat Bailey at USGamer expressed some disappointment, stating “with such limited integration, it feels a little like this addition is being setup to fail” while Owen Good at Polygon shared in the sentiment that EA hadn’t gone far enough, and that “in the end, what we have in reality still looks like it could have been a part of this series long ago”.

Circling back to the bigger FIFA-related news, Good even suggested EA should drop its branding from the series. That would be a shockingly dramatic move considering how lucrative the franchise is and that no one there would want to risk the anticipated revenues they already have built into financial forecasts. Maybe the calls for change will have dampened now that Blatter is on his way out.

It’s cliche but it really can be tough once reaching the top to stay there. That’s a difficulty EA Sports is now having to deal with. Do they do the “right thing” and dissociate from FIFA or continue despite the negative connection because the money is rolling in? Do they finally put in women but in doing so fail to generate desired satisfaction because they didn’t go to the lengths people had hoped they would?

In 2013 EA extended their exclusive deal with FIFA to 2022, a tremendous commitment suggesting neither party would have anticipated a scenario in which one would walk away from the other. The smart money would be on EA ignoring the controversy and rolling out the game as usual, with the promotional push to change the narrative kicking-off at E3 in two weeks.