EA Sports Will Pay $40 Million To College Athletes For Use Of Images In Video Games

Game footage from EA Sports’ NCAA Football ’14 CREDIT: EA SPORTS
Game footage from EA Sports’ NCAA Football ’14 CREDIT: EA SPORTS

Electronic Arts, the maker of popular college sports-themed video games, will pay current and former college athletes $40 million in damages as part of a deal to settle multiple lawsuits against it, the NCAA, and the Collegiate Licensing Company.

The lawsuits, brought by multiple former college athletes, make similar allegations that the NCAA, EA Sports, and the CLC violated antitrust law by conspiring to profit off the names, images, and likenesses of college athletes without compensating them. EA and the CLC announced in September that they had decided to reach a settlement with the plaintiffs after a federal judge ruled that the cases could proceed as a class action.

The terms of the settlement, announced late Friday, will pay as many as 100,000 current and former athletes up to $4,000 for use of their images and likenesses in EA Sports video games like its NCAA Football and March Madness series, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Solomon. The majority of the funds — after legal fees — will go toward plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit brought by former Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller. Other funds will go toward plaintiffs in a case brought by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon; the remainder will go to plaintiffs in cases brought by former Rutgers football player Ryan Hart and former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston.

The named plaintiffs, including Keller, Hart, and O’Bannon, will receive payments ranging from $2,500 to $15,000. Any player who has appeared in an EA Sports video game is eligible for payment under the settlement. Assuming federal judge Claudia Wilken approves the settlement, payments will depend on the number of total claims and the years spent on collegiate rosters, Solomon reported:

The attorneys estimate that players who appeared in a video game from 2003 to 2005 would receive between $96 and $517 per roster year appearance, depending on how many people make claims. For players who appear in video games since 2005, the estimate is $166 to $951 per roster year appearance. If a player only appeared on a roster and not a video game from 2005 to 2014, the range is $48 to $276 per roster year.

NCAA rules prohibit players’ names from appearing in video games like EA Sports’ NCAA College Football series, but the unnamed players included in the game are modeled after their real-life counterparts, with everything from uniform numbers to heights and weights and even listed hometowns closely matching the real players’ information. As part of the suit, EA Sports officials testified that they “generally tried to make the players perform as their real life counterparts, short of their name and likeness.”

“I’m thrilled that for the first time in the history of college sports, athletes will get compensated for their performance,” Steve Berman, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs, told ESPN’s Tom Farrey. “It’s pretty groundbreaking.”

In announcing that it had reached a preliminary settlement with the players in September, EA said it was bowing out of the legal proceedings in the O’Bannon case, the most prominent suit against the NCAA, because the company felt “stuck in the middle of a dispute between the NCAA and student-athletes who seek compensation for playing college football.”

Though EA has settled, the larger O’Bannon suit against the NCAA will proceed. The NCAA has pledged to fight that case all the way to the Supreme Court to keep athletes from gaining compensation for use of their names, images, and likenesses. Wilken has denied repeated NCAA motions to dismiss or delay the suit, and trial is set to begin June 9.