Sam Keller isn’t a household name, but the former Arizona State and Nebraska quarterback might become more famous for what he’s trying to accomplish now than for what he ever did on the field.
Keller filed a class-action lawsuit last week, suing the NCAA and Electronic Arts over the use of his and other college athletes’ likenesses in video games.
The suit alleges that EA “intentionally circumvents the prohibitions on utilizing student athletes’ names in commercial ventures by allowing gamers to upload entire rosters, which include players’ names and other information.”
EA, as well as other commercial interests such as jersey makers, are prohibited to use players’ names in what I imagine is an attempt to protect student-athletes from their universities cashing in on their success.
This isn’t a shocker to any gamer.
EA has always included the correct numbers of the players for its college basketball and football games. In recent years, the company has been more specific about characteristics, including accurate height and weights of players and their corresponding home state in their profile. Keller’s suit even alleges that accessories like armbands are accurately depicted.
EA has also added an “upload roster” function that allows gamers to download complete and accurate rosters with the players’ names added to the jerseys.
CNBC’s Darren Rovell said this is the best case he has ever seen constructed by a student-athlete.
And Rovell could be right. Keller and whomever joins him could win, or could at least receive a settlement from EA, which obviously includes correct numbers of players to allow fans to play with their favorite players.
As a gamer and a huge fan of the franchise, I’m particularly annoyed by this lawsuit.
But adding names to the rosters is a perk. I really don’t believe many people buy the video game because they can add the names to the roster. All of this had to be approved by the NCAA’s College Licensing Co., so wouldn’t that entity be held accountable rather than EA?
I also don’t see how this can be separated from other commercial ventures.
What about jersey sales?
Just because Tim Tebow’s name isn’t stitched across the back of a Florida Gators’ No. 15 jersey doesn’t mean the person buying the jersey isn’t supporting Tebow. Keller isn’t going after Nike, Adidas, Under Armour or Reebok.
Also, there are other video games with far more visible transgressions in this field.
The “College Hoops” series from 2K Games included a roster upload feature, including accurate player models and numbers, and even included a voice recognition system that allowed the game’s announcers to call out edited names. Many of the names programmed into the system were popular players.
But Keller likely chose to go after EA because it’s one of the largest companies and because of a successful suit filed by NFL veterans against the NFL Player’s Union for unauthorized use in EA’s “Madden NFL Football” that garnered them $28 million.
Keller could win, but I hope it isn’t just about the money. I also hope it doesn’t ruin one of the best games on the market.