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Court filing: EA Sports wanted to pay college football players, but couldn't

The potential evidence in the O'Bannon case, which begins June 9, could be damaging to the NCAA.

EA Sports

Electronic Arts has settled with the plaintiffs of the Keller suit for $40 million in damages, paying money it owed college athletes for illegally using their likenesses in its college football and basketball video games. However, O'Bannon lawsuit plaintiffs claim in a recent court filing that they will present at trial evidence that EA wanted to pay the players, even though the NCAA wouldn't allow it, due to its amateurism rules.

The (plaintiffs) will present documentary evidence and testimony from Joel Linzner of EA at trial that while EA abided by the prohibition on paying college athletes for the use of their (likeness) in NCAA-lisenced videogames, it nonetheless wanted to obtain the rights for more precise likenesses and the names of every college athlete on each roster, for which EA was willing to pay more to the NCAA and the college athletes themselves.

Players in other sports are compensated ahead of time for the use of their likenesses in video games, as EA does with the NFLPA when making its NFL games.

EA and the NCAA had attempted to get around the likeness issue by not using players' names and claiming the players in the games were random. However, the NCAA knew EA based their "random" players on real athletes and an EA producer admitted to using real players. EA canceled its college football series amid the ongoing legal battle.

EA had hoped to use names, even if that meant paying the athletes, because it knew customers wanted that.

EA knew that consumers wanted those improvements to the videogames, and increased sales would result. But the NCAA remained steadfast in its prohibition against sharing revenues with players and worried that any additional similarities between the athletes and the videogames would further expose the fiction that the videogame "avatars" did not represent real people

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At this point, there's basically no chance that the NCAA can win the Keller video games suit, and it should settle before the March 2015 trial.

However, this also hurts one of its key arguments in the O'Bannon television broadcasts suit, as well. The organization has argued that the players, themselves, are not what companies purchase the rights to when they broadcast games. The plaintiffs will argue that the evidence from EA shows that the use of real players in the video games makes the product more valuable, so this means the likenesses of the players must provide value in television broadcasts as well.