Own Goal FIFA?

When we first start working with a brand we’ll often want to understand what (if anything) people feel and think about it – what perceptions exist for us to build on?

We ask people, quite simply, to say the first words that come into their heads when they see the brand’s name.

Let’s try it now, clear your mind, ready? …


OK what did you say?

Football … World Cup… yep they’re the obvious but what else? I suspect, for those of a certain worldview, corruption, bribery, Qatar, Russia, sexism came to mind. A litany of poor PR, greed and mismanagement perhaps?

Whilst for others – perhaps those who spend their days playing football with control pads not shin pads – you might have found a different set of associations game, EA, fun, friends, excitement.

What we consistently see, across sectors, is that brands can’t decide what people think of them, it is a combination of experience, perception, product and history that contribute. Marketing too of course but not as much or as quickly as brand owners often hope.  Often it is decisions that feel minor at the time that can go on to be create a significant positive (or negative) association. In 1993 EA Sport sought, and acquired, licensing rights from the global body of world football – giving their new videogame legitimacy that competitors lacked.

For the past 30 years the partnership has flourished and together they have produced one of the most successful gaming franchises ever. Originally ‘FIFA International Soccer’ the game was soon abbreviated to simply FIFA (with the year then added with each iteration e.g. FIFA 23 being the most recent).

In the world of brands consistency, continuity and familiarity are key for establishing mental availability and associations – change your name at your peril. And along with Mario and Zelda, FIFA is (was) a titan of the sector. “Playing FIFA” is a description of an activity that simply can’t be applied to other governing bodies.

But sometimes real world pragmatic financial decisions muscle-in and necessitate change - FIFA 24 will not exist - reportedly due to a disagreement over the cost of the licence (or rather FIFA wanting a lot more money for use of its name). Whatever risk EA saw in the lost of its iconic name they clearly didn’t believe was worth the fee – especially when the EA name, the iconography and game play itself remain so strong. These assets, along with the multi-million-pound advertising campaign for ‘FC 24’, should give the game the best shot of navigating the change whilst signalling to fans and potential buyers – this game is a continuation of that game.

But what of the other partner in this. What cost to FIFA the organisation?

Where will the loss of one of their biggest licensing arrangements leave their associations? In the short term probably little difference but as the legacy fades how will their connection to the global game, and authority as the governing body be impacted by the loss? What do they lose from not having their name associated with one of the finest video games ever made? Give it a few years and FIFA may find themselves wondering why feelings of joy, fun, excitement and fondness appear to have slipped away, and perhaps why their name recognition and value is not as strong as it once was.

Gianni Infantino (President of FIFA) has indicated a new game could be imminent, but do they seriously think any other developer could do better for quality and playability? Surely that is to massively underestimate the skill and heritage in the EA fold.  

Or perhaps FIFA see it as an opportunity to license their name in other fields but there is a question that FIFA needs to consider …with their current associations would any brand owner really want it?

The Nursery Research and Planning are pioneers in brand and communications research with an expertise and heritage in the gaming sector.


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