$40M EA settlement, an NCAA player’s first payday, is bittersweet for some
Video game maker discontinues series after paying out to use players’ likenesses.
Published: June 7, 2014 05:07PM
Updated: June 10, 2014 08:07AM
image
The cover of the playstation game. Brian Johnson, the University of Utah quarterback who led the Utes to a perfect 13-0 regular-season record and threw for 27 touchdowns, dreams of playing in the NFL. Johnson was signing autographs in conjunction with the new EA Sports college football game in which he's featured on the cover. Photo by Leah Hogsten/ The Salt Lake Tribune WVC 7/14/09

Utah senior wide receiver Dres Anderson says he achieved a lifelong goal when he first made it in the game.

The video game.

Ever since he was a redshirt freshman in July 2010, Anderson — or, rather, an unnamed player with Anderson’s number, measurements and an approximation of his physical attributes — has appeared in Electronic Arts’ NCAA Football series.

Told this week that EA and Collegiate Licensing Co. have agreed to a $40 million settlement for current and former athletes portrayed in its games, Anderson said he’ll try to collect his dues. But he never felt exploited, and he’s sad to learn that EA has discontinued the series.

“That’s horrible,” he said. “I would prefer they keep it like it is. To my knowledge, nobody’s been complaining that if they’re in the game, they should be getting paid.”

The settlement applies to players who were emulated in the NCAA Football series or in an NCAA Basketball series that ran through 2009.

Athlete payments will vary depending on the number of athletes who apply, and The Associated Press reports they could range from $48 to $951 per year for each athlete.

One former Ute has already received a check from EA. After finishing his playing career at the U., Mississippi State quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson was paid to appear on the cover of the PlayStation 3 version of NCAA ’10 game.

Flying out to New York City for a swanky NCAA ’10 launch party was “an unbelievable opportunity,” he said by phone Friday. “I was extremely fired up.”

Johnson said “everybody” played the games when he was at the U., rushing to check each other’s ratings when the new version came out in mid-July.

Now he occasionally interacts with recruits who recognize him from the cover.

Brett Eden, the U.’s director of marketing and licensing, said schools were paid by EA for the use of their logos based on a formula that involved past appearances in the top 25, championships, etc. The U.’s take increased after wins in the Fiesta Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. Over the past three years, Eden says, licensing from NCAA Football alone averaged about $100,000.

“We don’t make a lot of money on royalties, so that’s a fairly substantial part of our business, so [the discontinuation of the game] will hurt for sure,” Eden said.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken must still make a ruling on the $40 million settlement.

The NCAA responded to the news with a terse statement that included a jab about the $13 million-plus the plaintiffs’ lawyers will pocket.

Some are viewing the deal as writing on the wall. If it’s legally untenable to use player numbers to sell video games without compensating them, what does that mean for jersey sales?

Texas A&M, Arizona and Northwestern told ESPN’s Darren Rovell on Thursday that they will no longer sell jerseys with star football players’ numbers on them.

Eden acknowledged Friday that they’ve talked about doing the same at the U., which only pulls in about $3,000 per year from licensing on jerseys.

But next year’s retail jerseys will likely bear numbers, he said, because UnderArmour requested their order last year.

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper