PlayStation 1
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

A lot has been written this year about EA Sports' decision to part ways with the FIFA brand to release EA Sports FC 24. However, what you might not know is that this could have happened much sooner than it eventually did.

When we were speaking to Tom Stone, EA's former vice president of European marketing, recently for an article on The Making Of FIFA International Soccer, he told us about a memorable incident that happened in the run-up to renewing the license back in 1997, which could have seen Sony steal the exclusive worldwide rights to FIFA from under EA's nose.

Chris Deering [the president of Sony PlayStation Europe at the time] met with me and said, ‘We’ve been offered the rights to “FIFA Soccer”. I said, ‘You have got to be effing joking[...] After everything we’ve done for them?’

The incident, as Stone recalls, came about as ISL (the company at the time that was responsible for licensing the FIFA branding) had reached out to PlayStation of Europe behind EA's back and offered them the exclusive worldwide rights to FIFA.

Stone tells Time Extension, "Chris Deering [the president of Sony PlayStation Europe at the time] met with me and said, ‘We’ve been offered the rights to FIFA Soccer'. I said, ‘You have got to be effing joking. Seriously? ISL has approached you and asked if you would like an exclusive worldwide license for FIFA? After everything we’ve done for them?’ I was really cross. But Chris said to me, ‘I will not sign that deal unless you can’t come to terms with FIFA. That’s your deal. You created that.' Obviously, Chris was looking 'big picture' at the support that EA gave to PlayStation worldwide. I think that would have been an interesting conversation had Sony signed that deal, though. I think EA would have responded quite badly to that."

PlayStation, at the time, already had its own football series: Psygnosis's Adidas Power Soccer series, which was sponsored by the popular Geman sportswear company. These games weren't as successful as FIFA, though, and could have potentially benefitted from nabbing the stronger license. Sony's PlayStation division, however, didn't feel like undermining one of its biggest third-party publishers was a particularly smart business move, so it wisely extended an offer to EA to let them reach its own agreement, which it eventually did leading to a four-year extension.

Obviously, this story makes for a pretty interesting "what if?", but it is also a reasonably good example of just how fragile the relationship between EA and FIFA could be, with both organizations examining ways of getting out of their partnership. According to Marc Aubanel, a producer who worked on various FIFA games in the '90s and early '2000s, EA considered dropping the FIFA brand decades before it eventually happened, but there was always a concern among the company's marketing team about the difficulty of rebranding in the midst of its success.

"We knew we were doing way more for FIFA than they were doing for us from a branding standpoint," says Aubanel. "So we were in discussions about dropping them decades before EA finally dropped them. The only reason they didn’t was because marketing was petrified about losing that brand awareness. We’d built so much equity in that brand. We were tired of paying for it, but every time we had to renegotiate with FIFA, they just didn’t want to take that risk of having to rebrand it."

EA Sports FC 24 is currently available to buy for Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Windows PCs.