EA Sports, College Athletes Settle For $40 Million
Electronic Arts has agreed to a $40 million settlement with college athletes who appeared in EA Sports’ NCAA Football and NCAA Basketball/March Madness series. The proposed settlement is now awaiting judicial approval.
According to a report on Polygon, this settlement comes as a result of a class action suit filed by NCAA student-athletes against EA for using their likenesses without payment or permission. The plaintiffs claimed that EA’s use of actual jersey numbers, heights, weights, skin colors and approximated ability levels of real NCAA players constituted an unlawful use of their likenesses. The various lawsuits that became the class-action began in 2008 and became a legitimate threat to EA last year when a federal judge ruled that current NCAA players could join the class-action. This led EA to begin settlement proceeding in September to avoid the risk of hefty payouts in damages. EA also cancelled its planned NCAA Football 15, stating that the company was "evaluating our plan for the future of the franchise."
While actual payouts to student-athletes will be decided on a case-by-case basis, the average payout should be around $951 per person according to Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro of Seattle, the legal firm representing the players. Various factors will affect individual payouts, including the year or years in which the player appeared in an EA game, and the total number of players that decide to opt into the settlement. Players that appeared in more recent titles, starting in 2005, will receive a higher disbursement than those who appeared in earlier titles. In addition, the principal plaintiffs, former quarterbacks Sam Keller and Ryan Hart, and former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon, will receive $15,000, while Virginia football player Shawne Alston will receive $5,000. Other named plaintiffs will receive between $2,500 and $5,000. The plaintiffs’ attorneys will receive an unspecified total of less than $13.2 million.
The settlement filing states that the athletes in question have made over 100,000 unauthorized appearances in EA Sports games since 2003, with many appearing multiple times. In order to be eligible for the settlement, players must have been represented in a game with their correct jersey number, position, sport, home state and academic institution.
Steve Berman, the plaintiffs’ attorney, expressed his satisfaction with the settlement; "We're incredibly pleased with the results of this settlement and the opportunity to right a huge wrong enacted by the NCAA and EA against these players and their rights of publicity.” He added, "We've fought against intense legal hurdles since filing this case in 2009 and to see this case come to fruition is a certain victory."
Pending judicial approval, this settlement marks the first time in history that student-athletes have been paid by a commercial partner of the NCAA. While the EA suit has been settled, the plaintiffs are still pursuing their much larger case against the NCAA itself. This suit challenges the organization's use of the images of its former student athletes for commercial purposes, and argues that upon graduation, a former student athlete should be paid for any commercial uses of his or her image by the NCAA. While the EA suit was settled for $40 million, the NCAA suit could see a significantly larger payout, since the NCAA makes billions of dollars off its athletes.