Although Electronic Arts isn’t a defendant in Parrish, Adderley et al vs NFL Players, Inc., the megabucks generated by its Madden NFL series are at the center of the legal dispute.
The case, which will go to trial next month in San Francisco, alleges that the National Football League Players Association and its marketing wing, Players, Inc., prevented retired players from earning their fair share of licensing revenue. Money generated by EA’s enormously popular Madden NFL series is the primary bone of contention.
According to former Buffalo Bills safety Jeff Nixon, newly-uncovered documents in the suit reveal that EA Sports obscured identifying information of retired players to skirt licensing payments. Nixon writes:
The documents… make it is crystal clear that the NFLPA conspired with EA to “scramble” the images of retired players in their Madden NFL Video Games…
The Class Action lawyers have more than a smoking gun to prove this; they have the person shooting the gun in the form of a letter fired off by former Players Inc. Vice President of Multimedia LaShun Lawson, to Madden NFL Game producer Jeremy Strauser that was cc’d to Doug Allen, then President of Players Inc. In the letter LaShun says:
“For all retired players that are not listed… their identity must be altered so that it cannot be recognized. Regarding paragraph 2 of the License Agreement between Electronic Arts and Players Inc, a player’s identity is defined as his name, likeness (including without limitation, number), picture, photograph, voice, facsimile signature and/or biographical information. Hence, any and all players not listed… cannot be represented in Madden 2002 with the number that player actually wore, and must be scrambled."
In the 2007 version of Madden NFL alone, more than 600 retired players… had their images scrambled. They are not identified in the game by their names and numbers, but the game lists their exact weight, height, years in the league, and position they played…
When a substantial competitor to EA [Take-Two] began to emerge for use of retired players, EA and Defendants rushed to enter into a contract locking up the most valuable retired players’ rights in exchange for payments that were admittedly below market. PI’s Senior Vice-President, Clay Walker, admitted as much in the following email:
“Take Two [the EA competitor] went after retired players to create an “NFL” style video game after we gave the exclusive to EA. I was able to forge this deal with [the Pro Football Hall of Fame] that provides them with $400K per year (which is significantly below market rate) in exchange for the HOF player rights. EA owes me a huge favor because that threat was enough to persuade Take Two to back off its plans, leaving EA as the only professional football videogame manufacturer out there.”