Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gareth Bale are potentially just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to high-profile players questioning the use of their name and likeness in FIFA video games.
FIFA 21 was released to the usual global hype campaign last month, but Ibrahimovic commanded headlines on Monday evening when he made his feelings known on Twitter about being included in the game without expressly giving his permission.
The veteran Swede, who has started the 2020/21 season on fire with 10 goals in six Serie A appearances for AC Milan, said he didn’t want anyone profiting off his name without consent.
“Who gave FIFA EA Sport permission to use my name and face? FIFPro? I’m not aware to be a member of FIFPro and if I am, I was put there without any real knowledge through some weird manoeuvre. And for sure I never allowed FIFA or FIFPro to make money using me,” he said.
“Somebody is making profit on my name and face without any agreement all these years. Time to investigate,” the 39-year-old added in a second post.
Responding, Bale posted a tweet that read, “Interesting...what is FIFPro?”
According to The Athletic, ‘thousands’ of players and a ‘growing number of top players’ are now expected to object to their likeness being used in the game without, they believe, giving any real consent to allow it. However, there is no organised movement.
It is a murky issue because, while individual players may feel they have not given their consent, licensing for games like FIFA is often agreed with clubs, while FIFPro has a ‘mandate’ to sell name and likeness rights on behalf of every player from a member nation.
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FIFPro represents an estimated 65,000 players globally and membership is dependent on whether a player hails from a country that is a member. In Ibrahimovic’s case, he may never have personally signed up to FIFPro, but Sweden is a member nation.
In Bale’s case, Wales is not a FIFPro member, but use of his name and likeness in the FIFA games comes from agreements with club sides instead. Premier League teams collectively sell image rights and intellectual property, as do those in La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga.
Serie A is the only one of Europe’s top five leagues without collective bargaining for video game licensing, but individual clubs can do deals with game publishers. That is why Juventus have not featured in a FIFA game since the 2018/19 edition. But where Ibrahimovic is concerned, Milan do have a deal in place with EA SPORTS, which includes the image rights of their players.
Image rights have also become commonplace in player contracts with clubs in recent years, giving clubs certain permissions to agree licensing deals and sponsorship involving players, usually in exchange for handsome bonuses or additional payments – Lionel Messi’s image rights, for example, are believed to pocket him €10m from Barcelona per season on top of his usual salary.
Indeed, it is usually image rights payments that has seen Spanish tax authorities pursue and prosecute Messi and a number of high-profile players in recent years.