Electronic Arts settles NCAA players antitrust class action

Posted on: October 17th, 2013 by Steve Larson

Antitrust CasesVideo game company EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Co. have reached an agreement to settle with thousands of current and former NCAA student-athletes over antitrust claims of a conspiracy involving the unauthorized use of their names and likenesses, according to court documents.

In court papers filed Thursday, EA Sports’ parent company, Electronic Arts Inc., and Collegiate, which holds licensing rights for many major colleges and collegiate athletic conferences, indicated they would settle the college athletes’ antitrust claims. EA was sued over its unapproved use of students’ likenesses and physical descriptions in its popular “NCAA Football” and “NCAA Basketball” video game series, while Collegiate was hit with similar claims based on its sale of items branded with college athletes’ names. 

Terms of the settlement will remain confidential until presented to the court for approval. The parties said in their settlement notice they are in the process of preparing settlement documents to present for preliminary approval, and requested that the court stay all pending litigation in the case. 

The settlement notice was filed the same day EA announced it would no longer annually produce a college football game, starting next year. The NCAA, which was also slapped with antitrust claims by the plaintiffs, is not a party to the settlement and remains as a defendant in the case.

The student-athletes reached the settlement with EA and Collegiate a little more than two weeks after the filing of EA’s motion to dismiss. Earlier this year, federal appeals courts rebuffed EA’s attempts to dismiss the individual lawsuits of former Rutgers University quarterback Ryan Hart and ex-Arizona State University and University of Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller by invoking First Amendment protections. 

The earliest putative class action, dating to 2009, was led by named plaintiff Edward O’Bannon Jr., a former standout on the University of California, Los Angeles basketball team. Other ex-players, including basketball legends Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson — who had played for the University of San Francisco and the University of Cincinnati, respectively — eventually joined as additional proposed class representatives.

In July, six college football players — linebacker Jake Fischer and kicker Jake Smith from the University of Arizona, tight end Moses Alipate and wide receiver Victor Keise from the University of Minnesota, cornerback Darius Robinson from Clemson University, and linebacker Chase Garnham from Vanderbilt University — became the first active NCAA athletes to join the suit.

The case is In re: Student-Athlete Name & Likeness Licensing Litigation, case number 4:09-cv-01967, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.