With the announcement earlier this week that video game giant Electronic Arts secured a crucial five-year deal with the NFL and the NFL Player’s Association that gives their football franchises exclusive rights to use the league’s teams, player names, and stadiums; EA has dealt a blow that will be felt by fans of all football games, Madden fans included.

First off I have to be fair. EA scored a big touchdown. They put up the money (a rumored $300 million over the five year period) to acquire the licenses and effectively pulled the proverbial rug out from under it’s closest competitor, Sega’s ESPN NFL series, and all other competitors as well. It was a strong and calculated move that from a business stand point makes perfect sense.

Unfortunately, gamers get the short end of this deal. Having no competition can’t be a good thing can it? To be quite honest, the Madden football series the past couple years hasn’t been as innovative or progressive as the ESPN NFL series, or as cheap. With Sega dropping the price of their game to $20, it created a serious threat that EA obviously thought could topple their Madden reign at the top. They had to make a move so instead of making a better football game, they pulled out their wallets and made a deal, effectively eliminating the competition. It’s this competition that drives companies to come up with a better football game than the other guy, and gamers were rewarded with football sims that looked gorgeous, played realistically, and kept getting better every year. Now that the competition looks to be over, EA’s only reason to make a better football game is to please the fans; but if they are the only choice on the shelves, then do they have to bother? They’re going to make a king’s ransom anyway; the consumers will buy it, so why push the envelope?

Publisher Take Two responded to the deal in a statement. “We believe that the decisions of the (NFL) and Players Inc. to grant an exclusive license for videogames do a tremendous disservice to the consumers … limiting their choices, curbing creativity and almost certainly leading to higher game prices”.

This is definitely bad news for anyone who likes to play football video games. Having no choice is always a bad thing and football games on all consoles are going to be affected. Manzy Clay, an avid Madden fan agrees, “It’s going to hurt the industry”, Clay said, “Not all people prefer to play Madden.”

How true this is. Many fans prefer to play ESPN NFL 2K5, NFL Blitz, or even NFL Gameday, but now they have no choice. For true NFL simulation football, it’s Madden Football or nothing.

So where does the industry go from here? Sports video games constitute 20 percent of the video game market, and EA doesn’t want to share it with anybody else. If you look at EA’s lineup of exclusive sports licenses (NFL, NASCAR, PGA, and FIFA) it seems obvious that they’ll make a move on securing MLB, NBA, and NHL licenses to create a virtual monopoly on the sports video game market. EA isn’t commenting on if this is their plan or not, but looking at their track record, one has to believe it is.

Many who preferred the ESPN NFL franchise are now out of luck. Should fans of the ESPN NBA and NHL franchies be worried?

I can’t put all the blame on EA though, the NFL and its players association is just as much at fault. They are the ones who offered up their exclusivity rights in the first place, and EA outbid the others to get the rights. This could seriously backfire on the league however when the deal is up in five years. With no competition left, EA will be in position to tell the league what price it feels it should pay for the licenses, and if the league disagrees will there be any other developers left around to pay their fees? Probably not since those developers would have to build a game from scratch, which costs much more than building off of last year’s title.

So why would the league do this you ask? Money is why. It’s possible that the decreased number of top football games available set up a situation where the league felt they could make more money selling an exclusive license to one publisher, rather than selling licenses to many companies. There was a time when there were multiple NFL licensed football game coming out every year. With Microsoft’s announcement earlier this year that they’re pulling the plug on the NFL Fever series, the only choices left on the Xbox were ESPN NFL 2K5 and EA’s Madden Football 2005. Fewer games mean fewer licensing fees received and the league saw a way to fatten its pockets in one bold move.

In a strictly business sense, both EA and the NFL made a great play with this deal.

With video game sales topping the $700 million dollar mark expect so see more shrewd moves of this nature coming from the top dogs in the industry. The more money there is to be made, the more people will try to control it. I fear this just may be the beginning of a time in video games where competition is waning, and the products released where there is no competitor, will suffer.

Reader’s Debate: EA’s Deal with the NFL

Ever since the announcement of the contract Electronic Arts made with the National Football League, our readers and staff members have came to a decision to actually speak their minds. Here at AMN, we have debated our opinions and expressed our thoughts on the future of this contract between the Electronic Arts and the NFL.

AMN’s Reaction

“They’ve announced the deal, not the intent to make the deal. So its too late for anyone to do anything even if they could. EA is the biggest 3rd party in the world, and their games are virtually guarenteed to sell millions. Hell in 2003, they had something like 27 million-selling titles. They are not gonna be swayed by a petition, minor fan protest or assasination; it wont even show up on radar.” —- Sascha_XA

“Really who cares – EA has been a part of the NFL, NBA, NHL, Boxing Commission and other sports for a long time. You guys, and just about everyone else, have been playing their games for the past 10-15 years. EA won’t take everyone’s opinions and follow them, they will make their own decisions for the best of the bottom line. EA knows consumers, and they know how to keep them.” —- XA-Shade

“The saddest thing is that they can produce garbage now that they own the license and no one has any other choise. Hell, there are tons of ideas they could use on the DS (drawing your own plays), but now that’ll probobly go down the drain because they have no reason to be creative. Heck, that’s probobly why they bought it. They had the cash, and Sega didn’t. That, and making the same game for the past 18+ years tends to run the idea mill pretty hard.” —- Lucas_AMN

“All I can say is that the NFL is going to regret it, and EA is going to benefit in immeasureable ways, no matter how much money they paid. NFL games have always been vibrant because they allowed all comers to license, so there was comeptition in the games. Now with them handing it to EA (who admittedly does more sales than all others), they’ve dug themselves into a hole. Why? Because when the 5 year contract is over, EA will be in a position of power when it comes to renegotiating, as all other game companies will have no working football game engine, assets, etc. ready. (Sega NCAA could be the exception, but it’s has significant differences.) The NFL will have no choice but to now talk on EA’s terms. You heard it here first: 5 years later EA is going to get a much better deal from the NFL because there will be no other players. EA is paying out a large amount of money, one-time, in order to control the NFL license forever.” —- Zanthy-GCA

“Yah that’s the Evil Alliance for ya. I hate football but even this disgusts me. SOmething did cross my mind though which in the end to a degree could work against EA. Remember back in the 80s when certain people would get licenses such as the official MLB Baseball titled game on NES? They had the rights for a good while and what came of it? — Baseball Stars 1 and 2, Legends of the Diamon, Bases Loaded 1-4, etc. This could bring up a new era of football innovation. Yes you’ll get the lameasses who must have their stupid stats who can stomach regurgitated $50 (or in this deal if greed prevails) or more $ costing Madden titles it could spur something good. What if someone made a new Football title in the light of like Fantasy Football leagues or like Baseball Stars where you can be owner, trainer, manager, and the players? This could work well, and with that if EA does go negligent the NFL could bail on the contract, or someone else with the better game could keep them from having it renewed.” —- Jeff K-DSA

“Seriously, this sucks. Everyone knows what this means, right? EA can officially half-*** every Madden game and not give it a second thought. There will be no competition. It just reaffirms the fact that EA is a soulless company hell-bent on their imperialistic march toward a satanic world of painful mediocrity. I already hated EA (especially for putting the sacred name “Goldeneye” in their lastest bond title just to make a piece of rushed trash seem like it’s actually a game), but this certainly doesn’t help. It’s a sad day for football game fans, even those that liked Madden the most. They can price their games higher and forget about quality.” —- Gamecubeguy

Reader’s Debate

“Whoo!…didnt sign…. dont care for NFL anyways….” —– Cubeenigma

“I now sponsor terrorism against EA and affiliated companies. Oh, and if anybody, notably the feds, have a problem, I am fully willing to chase your *** down the road with an AK. BS aside, this is terrible. This isn’t how you destroy the competetion……you destroy the competition by being better. the NFL is a fuking sell out.” —- bountyhunter

“I just hate how EA is pretty much monopolizing the Football Games market now. It’s good to see companies not closing shop due to EA.” —- brian23987

— Additional reporting by Jamil “XAShade” Matheny, Xbox – AMN.