NFL

Is EA in Danger of Losing the NFL Video Game Contract With the League Next Year?

Dozens of NFL gaming franchises have come and gone throughout the years. But none have been able to dethrone Madden as the king of football simulations. The franchise has seen several generations of gamers come and go. However, as the rights are up for grabs, Madden could change forever if EA doesn’t pay.

A brief history of EA’s Madden

Madden didn’t begin on the consoles that it’s known for today, according to Brittanica. It first became available as John Madden Football, an exclusive title on the Apple II, which capitalized on its namesake’s fame as a coach and broadcaster.

While the franchise saw some success on the Apple II, Apples were overpriced and not as widespread as they are in the 21st-century. By 1990, the franchise moved to the Sega Genesis, and in 1991, it was on the Super Nintendo. 

The game took on its current form in 1993, when it was rebranded as Madden NFL, and acquired the rights to the entire NFL. Like Tecmo Bowl before it, Madden NFL allowed players to be their favorite teams and favorite players in a pixelated simulation of real football. It was simple when compared to today’s games, but they offered sports fans something they had never seen. 

The franchise took off, but it wasn’t until the 21st-century that it became the giant that it is today. Graphics started getting better, and with it, the simulation grew more realistic. Pixelated characters became polygonal 3D characters. Those polygons smoothed out, and with every year, the players and the gameplay grew increasingly realistic. 

While Madden had some competition in the form of NFL 2K and NFL Blitz, it was the leader of the field. In 2005, Electronic Arts paid top dollar for the exclusive rights to NFL games — effectively canceling all possible competition. Since then, the game has continued leading the field as online play, e-sports, and the desire to play with the country’s most popular league stayed afloat. 

Exclusivity

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NFL 2K was the closest that the Madden franchise came to actual competition, reports EuroGamer. Madden finally had a worthy foe with a twenty dollar price tag and a set of features unavailable on the Electronic Arts title. While the franchise never officially surpassed Madden, it may have if Electronic Arts had not paid the money to achieve exclusivity. 

Since then, Electronic Arts has occasionally put out other NFL Titles, such as their reboot of the NFL Blitz franchise, but nothing ever got as big as Madden. For other companies, non-NFL titles such as All-Pro Football and Blitz: The League tried to capitalize on football without current NFL players, but they came and went without much chance for competition. 

Madden remains the top of the NFL gaming world in 2020. Despite a lack of competition, it has had to keep up with gaming trends to keep the football world interested. 

Is Madden in trouble?

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The exclusivity that EA holds has already relaxed, reports CBS Sports. 2K reacquired the rights to NFL games, but it cannot make a direct competitor to the Madden franchise. Instead, it will focus on games that are more arcade-like while opening up the possibility for unforeseen football franchises.

Earlier this year, rumors swirled that Take-Two, who produces the 2K franchise, was hoping to swoop in and steal the rights, but after NFL owners approved of a five-year extension, that will have to wait. Madden has been around for most of gaming’s history. That won’t change after the latest agreement.

In a gaming industry that thrives on competition, however, some may want more options in the future. When the next deal comes up in 2026, don’t be surprised if 2K tries to split the rights or become the exclusive purveyor of NFL games. Until then, fans can rely on annual incarnations of the franchise that they know and love.