Baseball is known as the America’s pastime, but Football is truly the game of American dreams. It would asinine to suggest that the Super bowl is anything but a national phenomenon. That fervor for the sport has translated well to the spectrum of video games. Ever since the early days of the Sega Genesis, digital football has been a mainstay in the console gaming scene. Even though he has a face for radio, any gamer worth their salt would instantly recognize John Madden’s characteristic double chin and Children of the Damned-like white hair.
The Madden franchise has been a hallmark of profitability for Electronic Arts and has earned tons of acclaim for the publisher’s internal developer: EA Tiburon. The yearly updates of this famous football franchise amassed sales that surpassed the 51 million unit mark. It’s so popular that the idea of the Madden curse has populated the minds of the masses. If that wasn’t inspiring enough, this simulation franchise is regularly used to predict the winner of the Super Bowl by several mainstream videogame sites.
However, Electronic Arts was not quite content with these McDonalds-like hamburger sales numbers and snapped up the sole exclusivity rights to the NFL license, its stadiums, and the NFLPA back in late 2004. This five year deal effectively killed EA’s competition in the market. Gamers everywhere fretted that Electronic Art’s monopoly would transform the legendary sports simulation into little more than a series of lackluster roster updates. EA in actuality bought exclusive access to gamers’ wallets; after all. Nobody wants a football game that doesn’t have the support of the league.
At the time of the signing, this infamous move was steeped in media controversy. Developer Visual Concepts and Take Two’s 2K sports brand franchises were routinely receiving higher reviews than their EA cousins and were gunning for EA’s throne. However, once the NFL deal was signed; the NFL 2K series was effectively killed. Take Two appealed to media stating that the deal was a “tremendous disservice to consumers” and in turn responded by signing a third-party exclusivity deal with America’s other favorite game, all but locking up the MLB and the MLBPA from all publishers except first party companies like Sony and Microsoft.
In February of 2008, the notorious EA football licensing deal quietly came back into the spotlight as the company extended their deal with NFL deal until 2013. However, an interesting law suit between clothing company, American Needle and NFL has reached the level of the Supreme Court and has recently brought the whole issue back into contention again. This case has the potential to place EA’s exclusive deal with NFL in violation of federal antitrust statutes. The giant publisher has been following the case closely as they have been embroiled in their own class-action lawsuit, Pecover vs. Electronic Arts; which argues that the exclusivity deal between the EA-NFL-NFLPA creates an unfair market situation that results in unfair pricing for the consumer. The class-action suit is to go to court in September 14, 2009.
The potential ramifications of this lawsuit are profound. If EA is found to be in violation of antitrust statutes than suddenly every publisher has free reign again to once again create marketable football games. As underdogs, these football games have be far more innovative and daring than EA’s current stable of sports titles to gain traction in the marketplace. Sports games sell consistently year-to-year and every publisher would love to get their grubby hands on that proverbial fertile field. Just imagine what SCE San Diego could do with the football license. They’ve already shown they are more than capable at handling the baseball license with MLB 09: The Show, the current best on the market. It’s not hard to imagine that all of the major publishers from Microsoft to Sony coveting EA’s exclusive access to the NFL license, it’s one way entry fee into the pocketbooks’ of gamers everywhere.