Eli Nachmany is the Managing Editor (Print) of the Harvard Journal of Sports & Entertainment Law and a rising second-year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2022).
Madden NFL is not going anywhere. This week, the National Football League (“NFL”) and the NFL Players Association (“NFLPA”) struck a deal with Electronic Arts (“EA”) to extend the parties’ exclusive partnership for the simulation-style NFL video game until 2026. Darren Rovell reports that the NFL will make $1 billion from the deal, while the NFLPA will earn $500 million. The deal also includes north of $500 million in marketing commitments.
Madden—named after legendary Pro Football Hall of Fame coach and broadcaster John Madden—is a video game franchise that has been around for over three decades. Madden allows users to play with their favorite NFL teams or players through various modes, including Play Now (individual games between NFL teams), Franchise (assuming control of an NFL franchise), and Ultimate Team (building a dream team with past and present NFL stars).
In recent years, Madden has been riding the e-sports wave. EA Sports (the EA subdivision that produces Madden) has built out an extensive lineup of Madden programming through the year, including a Madden Championship Series within the game’s Ultimate Team mode. The series has elevated top Madden players to e-sports superstar status. NFL players have gotten in on the fun; Los Angeles Chargers defensive back Derwin James won a recent Madden tournament for COVID-19 relief that aired on FOX Sports. James faced off against other NFL players, like Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill and former Pro Bowl quarterback Michael Vick. (To be sure, Madden was ahead of the curve when it came to e-sports and streaming; in the mid-2000s, EA Sports collaborated with ESPN on the show “Madden Nation,” which followed Madden gamers in their pursuit to win cash prizes.)
As the amount of revenue generated by e-sports grows exponentially, and as remote entertainment/video game streaming spikes in popularity in the post-COVID-19 world, this is Madden’s moment. Getting the exclusivity deal renewed with the NFL and the NFLPA checks off a massive box on EA’s 2020 to-do list. Forbes reports that unique Madden players grew 30-percent year over year from last year’s game; EA Sports will try to replicate that success over the life of the deal, and EA Sports executive Cam Weber indicated to Forbes that Madden is looking to establish more of an international foothold.
In March of 2020, the NFL signed a separate agreement with video game producer 2K Sports, leading some fans to believe that competition was on the way for EA Sports. Avid football gamers will remember the classic mid-2000s video game NFL 2K5 (2K Sports’ last NFL game, before its NFL deal expired), which a few commentators have described as superior in some ways to modern iterations of Madden. Indeed, if 2K was also making NFL video games, it might give EA Sports a push to fix some long-running issues with Madden, such as the bare-bones nature of franchise mode and a competitive gameplay system that incentivizes glitchy blitzes and route combinations over game-planning and strategy.
But it was not to be. 2K Sports’ deal with the NFL grants it the rights to make non-simulation football games. For casual observers, this means an arcade-style production that is less reflective of real-life NFL gameplay; for those familiar with the sports video game landscape, think of NBA Street as a good analog. However, the line between this and Madden is clear, and the 2K game will not compete with EA Sports’ product. As such, Madden and 2K will co-exist and occupy different lanes, with Madden continuing to be the dominant football video game.
Without question, EA Sports has only scratched the surface of Madden’s potential for profitability, despite the video game franchise’s long run to date. This extension continues Madden’s march to prominence in the e-sports world.