If you've been waiting for the day Electronic Arts' exclusive stranglehold on the NFL license ends, don't hold your breath: The league has extended the contract another year, meaning business as usual through 2013. I sure hope you weren't looking for innovation in football games anytime soon.
The 2004 agreement, which was renewed in 2008, let EA have free rein over the pro football simulation landscape, muscling out all competitors and letting the publisher continue its lucrative Madden NFL franchise update every year without competition. The terms of that deal have never been disclosed, but it is rumored to easily be in the nine figures.
This time around, though, the change isn't a gaming decision as much as it is a hedge against a possible lockout, and this deal is, in every sense of the word, exceptional. While licensees and sponsors have been clamoring for the NFL to make concessions should the 2011-12 season never start, the league has refused to negotiate with anyone. Anyone but Electronic Arts, that is.
According to Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal, the Madden deal is perhaps the biggest non-TV contract the NFL has, so it's important for them to keep it. With the possibility that the marketability of Madden NFL 12 would falter should the league's collective bargaining agreement with players not be renewed soon enough after its March 4 expiration, EA wanted some insurance, and they got it.
The Journal says the NFL has reduced EA's royalties and fees over the use of its uniforms, venues and names, extending the contract a year in case there's no season. The NFL Players Association also has a deal in place with the publisher over use of player names and likenesses — that one nets $30 million to $40 million per year, according to Labor Department reports. The Journal had no update on that contract, but just give it a few days.
While it's apparent the financial necessity of this relationship is the driving force in this deal, it translates into bad news for gamers. For the past few years, the franchise has worn thin on doing anything new. Beyond downloadable weekly in-season roster updates being a recent addition, the biggest news in last year's Madden NFL 11 was the play-calling scheme known as GameFlow and a team online mode. The year before that, the big news was basically new tackle animations and ratings algorithms. Woo.
A few years ago, when dinosaurs like Blitz: The League and the NFL 2K series roamed the Earth, we saw plenty of new takes on the pigskin formula, all with an NFL license. Plenty of people had their favorites, from Sports Talk Football to Tecmo Bowl. They were all different, but they all tried new things, and had their own highlights.
For another two years, at least, we'll have to keep watching the same reel.
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at email@example.com.