The current rights situation for football leagues in games is to all gamers’ disadvantage
Under the impression of blockbuster franchises like EA’s FIFA series or Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer you would assume original rights of real-world players and teams are a pretty usual thing in football games. But they are not. The rights situation for football leagues – like for example the Barclays Premier League – quickly gets very complicated if you take a look at different platforms, territories and time periods. In most of the cases it is to the disadvantage of gamers.
Users want their football heroes
Users of the FIFA or Pro Evolution Soccer series expect their real-world heroes and favorite teams to be part of the experience, without a doubt. And for many years now these two landmarks in sports gaming hold responsible for delivering the most realistic display of today’s world of football – at least when we look at the content. But this outstanding dominance in terms of content realism comes with a downside: a lack of other games that feature real-world players, teams, leagues or tournaments.
The reason for the drought is the “classic” way of tendering rights, which has been the common way of licensing out sports rights since the early days of television. Quick example: Barclays Premier League has got the centralized marketing rights for all Premier League clubs in the interactive category. This means there are not more than two BPL clubs per title allowed in any game that features football competition. BPL is centrally licensing out specific rights (BPL fixtures, team names and imagery) for a specific use (simulation game) for a specific period of time (three years). In most cases these deals are exclusive or at least selectively exclusive for distinct platforms. In an example EA makes the favorable offer and receives the possibility to exclusively exploit the BPL rights for simulation games (all platforms) for a time period of three years. These rights are then off the market for the time being whether EA is actually using these rights in a game or not. There is no way any other simulation title gets access to BPL rights for this period of three years (unless sublicensing is allowed, which in most cases is not).
What works for TV doesn’t work for games
Now this might be appropriate for the distribution of TV sports event rights, but it is absolutely not for game rights. There are some very good reasons for that, above all the simplest and most obvious: TV programs and games are two completely different things.
Live broadcasting or highlight shows of a sports event like a BPL match feature one thing, they simply let people watch the real world action. It does not matter if broadcasting station A, B or C is distributing it, the relevant content stays the same. It is based on real world events that have got a tremendous attractiveness for millions of people. Broadcasting stations bid for the rights to exclusively distribute the content and as this content is a very scarce resource, a bidding process makes sense.
The use of licenses is fundamentally different in games
Games are not scarce. There can be plenty of very similar games within a certain genre, for example football simulation games. Games are interactive and original content by themselves, real-world teams and names from BPL just add further depth to the user experience. In games the original rights are just a layer of content, in a TV sports broadcast the original rights are 100% of the content. As the branded product looks and feels differently in every case (whereas a TV product is always the same) it seems really odd to artificially limit access to the rights.
It might be appropriate for commercial reasons (i.e. maximize revenues) for both licensor and licensee to artificially restrict access to branded content. But when we look at games exclusivity is typically something that does not make any sense from a user standpoint. Of course, if I am a publisher and have got the only title that offers original BPL player names, I have got a big advantage in the market. But it automatically leads to decreased interest of other developers and publishers that do not see any chance for successfully competing on the same level. As a consequence users get less football titles and of course a lot less with branded content. Only a handful of titles across the genres that have got a more or less comprehensive set of real world licenses.
The rigid tendering of centralized marketing rights in fixed time periods does not reflect at all the interactive game and app landscape. Just three years can be a lifetime in the games industry. The business is a lot more volatile than a real world football calendar and TV programs.
For the sake of all football fans, gamers and the games industry let us actively work on some fundamental changes that foster diversity and increase the number of great football titles that feature rich branded content!
About the author
Vice President Products
Moritz is a sports enthusiast and passionate kiteboarder. As VP Products he is responsible for the set of services and products that Iconicfuture offers to its customers.
His team of product managers oversees all aspects of development and launch of IP integrations with developers and licensors who partner with Iconicfuture. In addition he supervises the business with sports licensors, especially the extensive range of football cooperations. Moritz has received his MBA in Media Management from Hamburg Media School.