There is nothing to stop a company making an American football game, even if they don't have the NFL and NFLPA licenses.
Such an unlicensed American football game could be creative too. Can you change the rules of football like play with a rugby ball? Or allow tripping? Or play 7 on 7? Or use high school football teams? Or have to count 5 mississippi before rushing the qb?
Even today with its the hyper focus on realism and photorealistic graphics, people could play a football game with thkngs like the USFL teams. Or a basketball game playing as the Harlem Globetrotters versus the Washington Generals. Or a baseball game with players from the Negro league versus the ladies from A league of their own, or whatever.
So don't put all the blame on EA buying up licenses when the fans are more interested in the players than the game.
Who would buy any of these games? Sorry, I don't agree with any of this. When I played baseball as a kid, I'd pretend I was Andre Dawson or Mark Grace. I don't think growing up I ever saw one Satchel Paige jersey. Nor did I ever see a single Rockford Peach jersey. Being from Chicago, it was mostly Cubs or White Sox, whether we were playing outside, or playing NES. No matter what the sport, most people imagine themselves in the NFL or what not.
I had a similar discussion with a Gamestop employee who told me that he doesn't play sports games because he can play sports in real life. I said, yeah, but can you go to Soldier Field and play for the Bears? Can you put on a Knicks jersey and propel New York back the NBA Finals? Very few can. Sports games are fantasy, just like any other game out there. They enable you to do what you can't in real life.