Back in 2013 the final EA Sports NCAA College Football Game was produced.
Since then the game has been a casualty of a name and likeness related lawsuit, which managed to kill the one thing that players, fans, and the NCAA all seemed to agree on: the video game was great.
Players loved it, fans loved it, and schools loved it because it allowed them to advertise their brands to young kids who would one day be applying to their schools.
As name and likeness bills have popped up in a variety of states across the nation, including California, New York, and South Carolina, the usual, tired debate about whether to pay or not to pay the players break out among the same usual, tired suspects. People adopt their usual posture and scream at each other.
Last week Tim Tebow was the focal point, but the same debate has been playing out over and over again for decades.
Why doesn’t the NCAA do something smart for a change that makes everyone happy: bring back the yearly CFB video game & sell the game as a nonprofit with all proceeds going to college football players featured in the game? pic.twitter.com/z6OS8V7ev7
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) September 14, 2019
Rather than have the same boring argument over and over again which doesn’t really change anything, I’ve got an interesting idea for a pilot program the NCAA could implement which could, in theory, allow players to receive payment for their name and likenesses as a test case, without creating a system where state law creates built in advantages for some states over others. (After all, if states can pass legislation providing advantages for schools inside their borders, what’s to stop a state from passing a law allowing each player in, for instance, Alabama to receive a scholarship and $100k per year to play football? It should be readily apparent to any fan of college sports that putting fifty state legislatures in charge of college football rules is a really, really bad idea.)
So instead of aggressively fighting all these bills and creating ill will and animus in the process, why couldn’t the NCAA consider amending its policies and allowing the marketplace to reward schools and players for the financial interest their names and likenesses create? Instead of viewing everything as a zero sum game, why not view this as an opportunity to increase the overall pie of college sports revenue?
My idea is pretty simple, but also a bit revolutionary: why not start making the NCAA football video game again, but give all profits to the scholarship players in the game?
Let’s sell the NCAA football video game and direct all profits to the 85 scholarship football players on each FBS team.
In past years EA Sports made the video game, but why couldn’t the NCAA go out to the marketplace and pay a set fee to a developer — it could be EA, Take Two, Activision or any other large company that has the wherewithal to competitively bid to produce this game — and then direct all profits from this video game to the scholarship athletes? (The video game developer, like anyone who bids on a construction project, would build their profits into the competitive bid process).
This seems like an idea that everyone would support — the players, the fans, and the schools.
What’s more, it offers tremendous advantages for the players and schools.
Since most games are now sold via online downloads, players could use their social media accounts to help spread news of the game release. (Heck, each school could design a special cover featuring each player as the cover athlete on the game. These images could then be shared on social media, with a link allowing fans to buy the game online, allowing the advertising costs for this game to be virtually nonexistent.)
Given that online games sell for at least $60 each now, a competitive bid process would likely create a $40 or more profit margin on each game. (A competitive bid process could even allow the maker of the game to do it essentially for free and keep all the different “up sale” options available to purchasers of the game. These add-ons are incredibly common and lucrative business models on their own now so a company might be willing to forestall payment for the development of the game and just take the profits here. Fortnite, for instance, is entirely free to players and the most avid players pay to have added dimensions to their game. This is the so called freemium model. It’s possible the game could even be entirely free if the developer was willing to take the risk on how popular the add ons would be.)
Regardless of what the final deal looked like, what kind of money are we talking about?
It could be fairly substantial.
If three million copies of the game sold, which seems doable, then each scholarship football player could receive in the neighborhood of $10k just for his likeness on the video game.
That’s fairly substantial money to a college kid.
(One idea that could be explored is only paying the players who graduate from college, thereby rewarding and incentivizing them to focus on their education. In this model the player would receive around $40-$50k in payment upon receiving his diploma.).
If this video game pilot program works well, and I think it would, then the NCAA could explore creating a pool for athlete likeness dollars going forward. Rather than allow individual players to sell individual autographs or individual endorsements, why couldn’t each school create a single autograph day where all players sign for fans? The money made from that event could then be pooled and distributed to all players evenly. The same could be true for endorsement dollars. If a team has a car dealership that wants to sponsor a player, the money would go into an overall fund to be distributed evenly to all players. Since much of the value of an individual athlete is directly connected to the team they play for, this would allow all deals to be vetted by schools to ensure it makes sense for a player and a team to be connected to the advertiser. (As much fun as it might be to see the ads, I don’t think schools want players endorsing strip clubs or alcohol, for instance.)
Sure, the usual suspects will toss out obstacles — what about Title IX some will wail? There’s nothing that prohibits other sports from doing their own games. If the market wants to support a women’s volleyball video game, for instance, then those players can get their own video game deal too. We just happen to know the market will support a college football game. That’s why it works well as a pilot program, we know there’s a big demand for this product already. What if a player doesn’t want to be in the college football video game? I doubt this would be the case for very many players, but they would have the opportunity to opt out of inclusion.
Honestly, I don’t even see many negatives at all here.
This video game could be an awful lot like the yearly football magazines, instead of picking one cover athlete each school could pick their own cover athlete and share it with their own fan base. Like I said earlier, each player could also be provided with cover art of him on the front of the game to share with his social media audience as well, permitting the marketing of this product to cost virtually nothing at all.
Put simply, I think this is a no brainer, a way for fans, players, and an often fractious NCAA governing body to all band together to create something the marketplace truly desires — a new yearly edition college football game, the Madden for college football fans.
In the end, everyone — fans, players and the NCAA — would win here.
So why not make it happen?
Let’s do it.