Blame the NFL We Have One Football Game

Feb 13, 2008

Ever since the news broke that the famed exclusivity deal between Electronic Arts and the National Football League has been extended to 2012 I’ve been reading a lot of folks in the community once again turning on Electronic Arts labeling them industry tyrants. All the good will and defense of the industry we all love over the Mass Effect situation washed away in that one simple sentence. However, is this really the case? The view that this is EA’s doing and it’s all their fault is such a poor point of view in this matter. The NFL is just as culpable and that is being generous. In all honesty, I solely blame the NFL for this deal ever having taken place and now its subsequent extension.

While a lot of you may rush to call me an EA apologist (as I did call them Heroes of the Republic in the last podcast) let me start off by saying that I in no way believe a monopoly on any major sports is a good thing. From a very simple standpoint, monopolies are the serial killer of this industry. Despite what the parties on the profiting end of such agreements would have you believe it’s become quite apparent that when a monopoly begins the desire to innovate and put out a quality product is diminished. Sure, we all saw this plain as day on the field of play. But there are plain facts in numbers that back up our suspicions.

Data compiled from gamerankings.com shows that during the competition era of football games dating back to 2002 through 2005 the average review score for Madden on the Xbox at approximately 89% and over 90% on the Playstation 2. Once the original exclusivity deal was signed in 2004 securing Madden 2006 as the only football game to hit the market average review scores plummeted while critics came out of the wood work. From Madden 2006 to the present 2008 iteration of the game the average score on the original Xbox console has been an 80.6%. Some may claim the focus and shift to the next generation may have taken away from previous titles. This does not seem to be the case as the next generation versions even this year’s which is undeniably head and shoulders above the prior two still only results in average scores of 74.5%, 80.9%, and 82.7%. EA is also not the only guilty party. After 2K signed a similar agreement with the MLB critics and gamers alike have been increasingly wary of the MLB 2K series as well since the time of the deal.

As a gamer and as a fan it’s easy to place the blame on Electronic Arts because it is still very much an Electronic Arts type of business move. A move in line with their numerous acquisitions that become more public and earth shattering each time you see the story break. A transaction that ultimately when you talk dollars and cents, only EA and its vast resources is able to close. Unfortunately, favor with the community and fans does not translate quantitatively to the bottom line. At the original time of acquisition if you were the CEO of Electronic Arts would any of you have done it any different ? One of your staffers walks into the room and alerts you to the fact that the NFL is looking to license all their current properties to the highest bidder, do you honestly refuse? Let none of us forget that prior to the announcement the negotiation window was very much open to any company and that other suitors were in the hunt. This story today could easily be about any number of other publishers in the industry. At least one of which did end up taking the money they didn’t spend with the NFL and spent it with the MLB. Which is why I urge everyone to see some reason in this and if you have to place blame at all it needs to be placed on those who opened the door for such an opportunity.

Without question the NFL is the most popular sport in North America. The Super Bowl two weeks ago drew the highest ratings since the finale of MASH with an average of 97.5 million viewers. I highly doubt back in 1983 your parents were watching MASH with 15 to 20 of their closest friends and family either so the argument can easily be made an NFL game is now the most watched televised event in history. In 2006, the NFL reported revenue exceeding 6 billion dollars easily making it the most profitable league in the world. With this the NFL network was born and the rest is history. I know the NFL makes us all warm and fuzzy between September and January but its naive to think the NFL themselves have not exploited their immense popularity. Take for instance their bullying tactics in dealing with numerous cable companies over the distribution of the NFL network and the strong arm tactics the NFL has attempted to use against them. I know the only popular party in all this is the NFL as a lot of people are currently upset with EA and cable companies over various issues but do not make the mistake of thinking the NFL isn’t out to get theirs just the same as every other company.

The NFL leveraged all these facts into an effort to further their revenues just the same as Electronic Arts but with far less to gain in comparison. Madden had clearly been established as the standard in terms of quality and sales and in 2005 these two dogmas of gaming were in very serious doubt sparking a debate that rages on today of “Is NFL 2K5 the greatest football game of all time?”.  In addition neck and neck sales competition were obviously making higher management at Electronic Arts sweat. The NFL was offering Electronic Arts an 11th hour saving grace and EA correctly chomped at the bit.

On top of all this, there was an image to upkeep for the NFL,  its athletes, and EA. Athletes and celebrities alike showing off their lavish homes and tour buses on television would all turn to their grand displays where only one football game was the obvious choice for the rich and famous. Madden had become the video game equivalent of Scarface in a DVD collection. You just weren’t cool or a baller without it and everyone in the NFL from commercials to interviews made that point extremely clear. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, speaks to business people more than a celebrity endorsement.

So when Peter Moore who is arguably the biggest “gets it” guy in the industry heads up EA sports and wisely again accepts what is ultimately the NFL’s invitation to Electronic Arts to remain exclusive partners don’t point your keyboard and post button at EA, post at the least some of that at the NFL for making it possible. Then again, you could go out and buy a lackluster legends game featuring fantasy teams and even less believable stadiums.

Tags: EA, exclusive NFL, NFL, peter moore, ratings, super bowl