Could College Hockey Come to EA Sports’ NHL Franchise?

The NCAA announced Wednesday that it would not renew its licensing agreement with video game giant EA Sports. The NCAA’s name and logo has appeared on EA Sports’ games for 21 years on such titles as NCAA Football, NCAA Basketball and MVP NCAA Baseball.

Until Wednesday, I had been under the assumption that the NCAA’s licensing agreement was the only way EA Sports was able to create college sports games. However, that is not so. It is the Collegiate Licensing Company that licenses the trademarks and intellectual property of many of the universities within the NCAA to EA Sports. Check out Kotaku for more.

In a statement, Andrew Wilson, EA’s executive vice president expressed the following in regards to the end of the company’s licensing agreement with the NCAA:

EA SPORTS will continue to develop and publish college football games, but we will no longer include the NCAA names and marks.  Our relationship with the Collegiate Licensing Company is strong and we are already working on a new game for next generation consoles which will launch next year and feature the college teams, conferences and all the innovation fans expect from EA SPORTS.

We took big creative strides with this year’s college game and you’ll see much more in the future.  We love college football and look forward to making more games for our fans.

Seeing as the individual schools have more control in whether or not their logos and uniforms can be included in video games, this might be good news for college hockey fans.

After the news came out, I tweeted the following Wednesday…

It was a fairly harmless tweet, perhaps born more out of hope than any basis in reality, but a well-connected friend within the college hockey community told me that never might have been the wrong word. In fact, he believes it’s a strong possibility.

Since I was operating under the assumption previously that the NCAA controlled full rights to these games and the use of their member schools, I figured there would be no chance it would allow the NCAA brand to be on a game under the banner of a professional league. However, now it’s clear that the NCAA really doesn’t have a say.

In  the NCAA’s statement regarding its licensing agreement, it related as much:

 Member colleges and universities license their own trademarks and other intellectual property for the video game. They will have to independently decide whether to continue those business arrangements in the future.

So if college hockey schools have a desire to have their teams included on the NHL video game, it’s really up to them. CLC would also have to be on board, as part of its job is to manage each client school’s brand. The company does not include every college hockey school, but works with many, and it is not clear how receptive this group would be to including its client’s brands on a game where they aren’t the primary attraction.

There’s no question that college hockey coaches would be all for their teams being included on this game. From a marketing and recruiting standpoint, it’s a draw.

If you play EA’s critically-acclaimed NHL series, you’ll know that Canadian Hockey League teams and players were added to the game in 2011. By licensing with the EA NHL franchise, the CHL made a very smart marketing move to increase its exposure and connect with an audience it would have trouble reaching otherwise.

It also helps with the junior league’s recruiting as well. They can sell to a 16-year-old kid that if he signs, he’ll be on a video game. With some of these kids, it’ll be a small part of the decision-making process, rightly or wrongly.

Fans, of course, love the addition of the CHL as their preferred team’s prospects from the junior league are included and can be “called up.” Gamers can also play a career mode which takes them through the junior ranks up through the minors and into the NHL, which is certainly a fun feature.

Including college hockey might make for a really fun career mode, where a gamer has to decide NCAA or CHL as your preferred path to the NHL. What a great experiment that could be.

Now, if EA and college hockey were ever to reach an agreement, the players’ names and likenesses from each team would still not be able to be used due to NCAA amateurism rules. So your favorite teams still wouldn’t have the drafted players in the college hockey ranks, but maybe Calgary’s depth chart could include “Boston College LW #13″ or something.

Still, it’s a new feature and if gamers are going to continue to buy the same video game, it’s got to have some new bells and whistles. College hockey would be a pretty shiny bell, I think.

Even without names and likenesses, college hockey teams and logos on the game are certainly an added bonus. There’s a chance to reach a wholly untapped market with the wild popularity of EA’s NHL franchise. Sales of the game continue to rise, even showing better numbers this year during the lockout. There’s a large audience out there.

(Tangent: I think the IIHF and its member federations would also be wise to strike a deal with EA for the NHL games to get their brands out there more. Right now most national teams’ logo is just a flag instead of federation logos. How Hockey Canada and USA Hockey don’t have their logos on the game seems like a missed opportunity to me).

College hockey, at least next year, will have unprecedented national television coverage and is moving positively towards growing its exposure. The timing really couldn’t be better to create a new outlet to reach new audiences. EA might be able to provide such a vehicle.

It might seem like a very minor thing to get the team included on the video game, but there are so many benefits, it almost makes too much sense for everyone involved.

EA needs to add features to sell games. It could expand its career mode, would have more teams for its gamers to experiment with and would likely be able to pull in some new customers with more college hockey fans buying the game potentially.

College hockey, which can never get enough exposure, has a perfect outlet to reach a young audience and try to gain new fans. Additionally, it’s a neat little recruiting tool that is just one minor thing that puts the NCAA on the level with the CHL. It also represents to a wider audience, that yes, college hockey is a viable path to the NHL.

There are certainly obstacles to this ever happening, such as the ongoing lawsuit between Ed O’Bannon and the NCAA, which was a big reason the NCAA dropped its licensing deal with EA Sports. The lawsuit was born, in part, out of O’Bannon’s apparent image and likeness being utilized in an EA video game and the NCAA essentially making money off of it without his permission. The suit is now starting to travel down the amateurism rabbit hole, which could forever alter college athletics. Depending on how this lawsuit goes, it could make schools more cautious about how it approaches the video game industry.

There’s also the issue of trying to get the CLC on board with allowing the brands they protect to be part of an NHL video game. Obviously a college hockey video game could not stand on its own. It would only work as a feature on an already established entity like the EA NHL series. The CLC would have to decide if that would be favorable for its clients or not. It’s a tough pitch, I think.

The CLC also sets the pricing for how much it would cost to license their clients’ trademarks for the game. This isn’t necessarily a feature EA needs to add, so if the price is too high, it won’t happen. However, if the CLC’s clients want something like this, who are they to stop the people that pay them?

When you look at college athletics now and the way that conferences are realigning across pretty much all sports, it has really become an every-school-for-itself situation. If there’s a chance to create exposure, while also collecting some rights fees, even if they’re minor, these schools won’t think twice about making something like this happen.

The likelihood of this happening, to me, is still a few years away. There is so much to sort out, but it is far from the impossibility I believed it to be two days ago.

Adding college hockey to the EA NHL franchise certainly would be a lot of fun for college hockey fans, but I really think NHL fans would enjoy it, too. It seems like this would be a win for all involved.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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4 Responses to Could College Hockey Come to EA Sports’ NHL Franchise?

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