EA Sports, a renowned video game developer, is facing a lawsuit over its upcoming college football video game, set for release in 2024. The Brandr Group, a company that negotiates group licensing contracts for 54 Division I schools and their athletes for the game, is suing EA over the name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals being offered to athletes.
The controversy surrounding athlete compensation has escalated from public comments to a full-blown lawsuit. The Brandr Group alleges that EA is trying to “circumvent” its agreements to negotiate deals for athletes to participate in the football game.
The lawsuit was initially filed in San Mateo County, California, where EA’s headquarters are located, but has since been transferred to the Northern District of California, a federal court.
The Brandr Group, contracted by schools nationwide, facilitates group licensing agreements using the intellectual property of schools and athletes’ NILs. The company alleges that EA is attempting to bypass its agreements and negotiate individual deals with athletes without The Brandr Group’s involvement.
Court documents reveal that The Brandr Group and EA had been in contact multiple times in 2021 and 2022 about EA’s plans to offer athletes NIL deals to be featured in the game. Initially, EA stated that deals for athletes from schools associated with The Brandr Group would be conducted through the company. However, in May 2023, EA opted to collaborate with a different company, OneTeam Partners, to facilitate the group licensing deals directly with athletes.
This change enables athletes to opt into deals worth $500 without The Brandr Group’s involvement. Both The Brandr Group and an athlete advocacy group, The College Football Players Association, argue that the proposed deal is below fair market value. Furthermore, The Brandr Group alleges that schools may only receive 10% of the game’s total revenue, highlighting the compensation disparity between athletes and schools.
The lawsuit asserts that EA’s decision to exclude The Brandr Group from the negotiation process constitutes “tortious interference.” This puts schools in a challenging position of potentially breaching their contracts with The Brandr Group or missing out on the opportunity for their athletes to participate in the game.
The Brandr Group argues that EA’s tactics will cause irreparable harm to both its client athletes and all student-athletes who opt into the direct deal, as they lose the opportunity to have their own representative negotiate for fair compensation.
In response, The Brandr Group has asked EA to halt all negotiations with athletes and schools for which the company has contracts. They underscore their commitment to advocating for student-athletes and ensuring they receive fair compensation for the use of their NILs.
The lawsuit’s outcome and its potential impact on the future of EA’s college football video game remain uncertain. Athletes and schools have until June 30 to opt in, according to the lawsuit.