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EA Sports underlines women’s football ambitions with Uefa sponsorship and licensing deal

The Women's Super League is available to play in the latest edition of Fifa 23. (Photo: EA Sports).

  • Games developer to integrate Uefa Women’s Champions League into FIFA 23 game
  • Brand joins second tier of Uefa’s ‘Women’s Football Partner’ category
  • Deal supplemented with sponsorship of DAZN’s global broadcast coverage

EA Sports has agreed a joint sponsorship and licensing deal with Uefa allowing it to launch and promote a new Uefa Women’s Champions League simulation game within the FIFA 23 franchise next March.

SportBusiness Sponsorship understands the game developer is paying around €1.33m ($1.3m) per year, or €4m in total, to sponsor the women’s club competition and recreate it in the video game in a three-season deal running from 2022-23 to 2024-25. Although the Women’s Champions League will be the initial focus of the deal, the brand has effectively paid to become a ‘tier-two Uefa Women’s Football Partner’, a designation which also grants it the sponsorship rights across all of Uefa’s women’s competitions. The company is also understood to have acquired the licensing rights across other Uefa women’s competitions but has no immediate plans to use them.

The licensing deal for the women’s club competition builds on the long-term licensing extension the publisher agreed with Uefa in 2021 to secure the exclusive video game rights across the governing body’s men’s club competitions. The rights to use the Fifa name are part of a separate agreement with the global football federation that the company has opted not to renew after December 2023, deciding instead to rename the franchise ‘EA Sports FC’ from that point onwards. The rights to use individual team and player names are agreed with clubs and player associations respectively.

The Uefa Women’s Champions League gameplay will be made available as a downloadable update to the video game next March to coincide with the quarter-final stage of the real-life competition. To further enhance its ability to recreate the women’s event, the developer has also agreed licensing deals with leading women’s teams including Juventus Women, Real Madrid Femenino, Manchester City Women, Chelsea Women, Olympique Lyonnais Féminin and Paris Saint-Germain Féminine.

FIFA 23 already allows fans to play as club teams from the FA Women’s Super League and Division 1 Féminine – the top women’s divisions in England and France respectively. In a further sign of the brand’s commitment to women’s football, it is also the first edition of the title to include a female footballer on the cover, with Chelsea forward and Australia international Sam Kerr appearing beside Fifa Men’s World Cup winner Kylian Mbappé. Next summer the game will also allow fans to play as teams in the Fifa Women’s World Cup.

To supplement the new Uefa sponsorship and licensing deal, EA Sports also convened a ‘Women’s Football Summit’ at the Outernet entertainment complex in London on Tuesday, October 18 where it announced a raft of initiatives to support the women’s professional game. The brand will give its backing to Uefa’s women’s football marketing platform Together #WePlayStrong, which is aimed at getting more girls and women to play football and launch a series of bursaries and internships to help women develop careers in football. It has also committed to spend $11m (€11.2m) on a new ‘Starting XI’ fund which will be allocated to making further upgrades to its women’s football simulation products and allow it to acquire further league, club and athlete licensing rights.

‘Deeper than a licensing deal’

David Jackson, vice-president brand, EA Sports FC, told SportBusiness Sponsorship: “It’s going be a little deeper than just the licensing deal – that’s the predominant way in which I think EA Sports and the FIFA platform can support the elevation and acceleration of the women’s game. But we are going to be looking at other opportunities around internships and a bursary to allow women in particular to enter into football in a more meaningful way through the lens of the partnership.”

Of the Starting XI fund he said: “It’s an $11 million investment into the women’s game as a start point for us to make sure that we offer a really faithful and authentic representation of the Uefa Women’s Champions League within our product.”

To further promote the new Women’s Champions League gameplay, the brand has also agreed a two-year sponsorship deal with the DAZN streaming service to become the Global Broadcast Partner of its Uefa Women’s Champions League coverage.

Olympique Lyonnais takes on Juventus in the Uefa Women’s Champions League on October 27, 2022 (by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images).

“It was a separate deal, so it’s not connected to Uefa necessarily, apart from the fact that the IP is shared, but it’s a straight deal between EA [Sports] and DAZN and we hope to be able to create the conditions where some of their content appears on our platform and some of our content appears in theirs over time. But as of right now, it’s a partnership of willingness to ensure that we accelerate the [women’s] game for different, diverse fanbases.”

Jackson said the developer would use the combined sponsorship and licensing deals to target new gamers.

“We fully expect to welcome and engage with many new fans through this integration, not least through the fact that we’ve got WSL, D1 Féminine, from the get-go in [FIFA] 23. We’re going to be adding Women’s Champions League post-launch and then we have a Women’s World Cup obviously, in the summer of next year – that’s a massive opportunity for us in one given cycle to engage lots and lots of new fans, male and female.”

Uefa sponsorship rights

SportBusiness Sponsorship understands EA Sports’ sponsorship deal with Uefa includes branding on media backdrops at Uefa’s women’s football competitions and some pitch-side LED inventory. The brand will be able to avail itself of the governing body’s digital marketing and content services.

Jackson said: “We get access to a white-label platform, which allows us access to things like highlights and broadcast content, shoulder programming, social assets, all of that’s really helpful for us. As you might imagine, EA Sports has a large content engine of its own, and there will be some reciprocal benefit that we drive there.”

He explained that the licensing rights and the purpose-driven elements of the deal, such as the support of Uefa’s grassroots football initiatives, were more important to the brand than LED inventory.

“I think that inventory is far less valuable to us in terms of static visibility, than it is for us to bring [Uefa] IP into the platform. I think we want to have a pervasive approach towards Uefa IP. We want to amplify Uefa’s mission through our platform, because a large amount of it we agree with. But also, it’s very challenging to sit in a room and talk about grassroots football, and women’s football, if you aren’t able to offer the same parity of platform experience in the women’s game as the men’s [game].

“I think over time, we’re going to grow and expand our partnership with Uefa. It’s a very good positive partnership between Uefa and EA Sports and I think it’s the right moment for us to have a more holistic, expansive relationship so that we can deliver on some of the promises we’re making. I don’t personally, as the leader of the brand, want to be in a position where we have to limit our ambition, or limit the delivery that we can offer for fans of the sport, based on gender, or based on platform.”

Unbundling of women’s rights

Uefa unbundled the sponsorship rights to its women’s competitions from its men’s competitions in 2017, creating three distinct packages of rights. Previously its women’s national team competitions had been combined with their men’s equivalents such as the Euro, the Uefa Futsal Euro and youth competitions, while the female club competitions, namely the Women’s Champions League, were combined with the Men’s Champions League. But under the new structure, starting from 2018, any brand interested in aligning itself with the federation’s women’s football activities had to take one of the three new standalone categories.

These included a ‘Uefa Women’s Football Partner’ designation which granted brands the sponsorship rights to all women’s football competitions organised by governing body in each four-year cycle, as well as the Together #WePlayStrong campaign under which it provides content services for sponsors. This category is itself divided into two tiers and encompasses the rights to all of Uefa’s women’s competitions, including the Women’s Euro, the Women’s Champions League, the Women’s Futsal Euro and the Women’s under-17 and under-19 European Championships. EA Sports’ deal is in the second tier of this category.

Below this, there is a further ‘Women’s Euro Partner’ category, which grants brands the rights to sponsor its flagship women’s national team event and a ‘National Sponsor’ category that enables the host national association to agree a suite of domestic sponsorship deals to help with the cost of running the event.

Ahead of the current cycle from 2021-22 to 2024-25, the governing body set out to secure seven tier-one Women’s Football Partners paying between €2.5m and €3m per year and four tier-two partners paying between €1m and €1.33m per year. EA Sports joins Adidas and watchmaker Hublot in this second sponsorship tier, which includes fewer minutes of LED advertising than the tier-one category. The addition of the video game developer leaves just one sponsorship spot to fill in this tier. Meanwhile, Uefa’s tier-one Women’s Football Partner category already boasts six sponsors – Visa, Pepsi (Lay’s), Euronics, Grifols, Just Eat and Heineken – also leaving just one position to fill.

Uefa currently has six tier-one and three tier-two Women’s Football Partners.

The governing body’s sales agent for its women’s competitions is TRM Partners, the sponsorship sales agency owned by the Two Circles digital consultancy. The football federation appointed the agency in 2017 having decided that it needed an agency with specific expertise in digital media after DAZN acquired the global media rights to the Women’s Champions League from 2021-22 to 2024-25 in a deal that included a provision to broadcast 19 matches per season free on YouTube for the first two seasons of the agreement. For the last two seasons of the deal, DAZN will broadcast 19 matches free on YouTube each season with all 61 streamed on DAZN.

Centralisation of Women’s Champions League sponsorship

Ahead of the 2021-25 sales cycle, Uefa enhanced the package of rights available in the Women’s Football Partner programme, agreeing with clubs to partially centralise the sponsorship rights to the Women’s Champions League from the group stage onwards.

Previously, Women’s Football Partners were only able to activate their pitch-side advertising rights at the Women’s Champions League final, but under the new structure, they are able to activate them from the quarter-finals onwards. The new sponsorship regime also gives Uefa the digital sponsorship rights to every stage of the tournament and allow for the ‘Official Match Ball Supplier’, Adidas, and drinks sponsor Pepsi to activate their rights in the opening group stage in addition to the knockout rounds.

EA Sports said the decision to launch the game from this stage onwards had more to do with the fact that it will most likely have the individual video game licensing rights to the eight teams competing in this stage of the tournament.

“It will be from the knockout phase onwards,” said Jackson. “That’s intentional, so that we can provide the best possible quality of experience in the game. We don’t have [the licensing] provision for all of the various different women’s teams from across Uefa’s collection pool to get into qualifying. But we do have a really broad spectrum of licensing deals when it gets to the knockout stage. So the integration will go into product in March, and we are going to be working with the DAZN to elevate that and make people aware.”

End of Fifa licensing deal

EA Sports is expanding its commercial relationship with Uefa shortly after it opted not to renew its licensing deal with Fifa. Fifa is understood to have wanted to double the $600m or $150m per year the games developer is paying across the current four-year cycle, having eyed the significant revenues EA Sports has itself generated from the game during its long-term association with the global federation.

Asked if Uefa was now benefiting from the decision to terminate the deal with Fifa, Jackson said: “I don’t think we ever saw it as a zero-sum trade – one set of IP for another – I think we have over 300 licensed IP partners that are already in FIFA 23 beyond the Fifa licence. We have a really deep and meaningful partnership with Uefa but we have a deep and meaningful partnership with the Premier League, Bundesliga, MLS, Conmebol. There’s lots and lots of content that comes into our product from multiple different IP owners.”

He added: “Fifa enabled us to have a name, which we used for nearly 30 years, and also World Cup IP every four years. But that’s where it started and ended, so all of that content [from other football rights-holders] will come with us into the future.”

Fifa has tried to brush off the loss of the licensing partner, announcing that it will launch its own portfolio of video games in the coming years but there is sceptism about its ability to plug the $600m gap left by the licensing deal, or develop games of a similar standard to the publisher. Last week, the governing body announced a multi-year partnership with metaverse platform Roblox but the agreement is not comparable to the video game licensing deal with EA Sports.

Jackson said EA Sports’ value to sports rights-holders extended beyond the financial value of each individual deal and that it also provided significant marketing services for partners: “I do think we have a very specific role to play in the world of future fandom in the fact that it’s interactive and I think we’re going to accelerate and elevate all of our partners through that platform. I think we can advantage them in growing new fanbases and giving them access to the future fan through our platform.”

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