SBD/April 28, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Peyton's Place: Hillis Caps Shocking Run By Topping Vick For Cover Of "Madden NFL 12"

Hillis topped Vick in the finals with vote margin of 66% to 34%.
Browns RB Peyton Hillis yesterday completed his shocking run through EA Sports' "Madden NFL 12" fan vote bracket for the game cover, routing Eagles QB Michael Vick in the final with a vote margin of 66% to 34%. The selection was announced live on ESPN2's "SportsNation." Hillis today is conducting a whirlwind promotional schedule in N.Y., shooting the cover photo in the morning, attending a pre-draft luncheon held by the NFL, reading the Top 10 list on CBS' "Late Show" during the late afternoon taping, and announcing the Browns' first-round selection at the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. The EA Sports fan vote for the "Madden" cover, representing a significant expansion from a more limited effort last year, garnered nearly 13 million total votes, including more than 1 million for the Hillis-Vick final. Hillis, slotted as a 10 seed in the 32-player bracket, during his run bested a series of far more established players including Ravens RB Ray Rice, Falcons QB Matt Ryan, Chief RB Jamaal Charles, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, and then Vick. Despite the ongoing NFL labor dispute, the Browns actively supported Hillis' candidacy through their official team social media channels, and prominently featured his victory last night on ClevelandBrowns.com (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal). In Cleveland, Jodie Valade notes the cover "not only provides Hillis with publicity, but comes with $125,000 in return for about a week of promotional duties." Hillis, the first Browns player ever to appear on the "Madden" cover, said, "It's pretty overwhelming. This whole process has been really unexpected. I've got to give it up to the Cleveland fans. It shows how big Cleveland fans are to the players." EA Sports Senior Product Manager Anthony Stevenson said that Hillis' selection "was buoyed by a landslide of Browns fans votes" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 4/28).

A CINDERELLA STORY: EA Sports conducted the photo shoot this morning with Hillis on Military Island in Times Square, despite occasionally heavy rain, with the public release of the final cover art expected in mid-to-late May. Stevenson said the cover voting campaign represented the largest fan engagement program in the histories of both EA Sports and ESPN. "If Aaron Rodgers had won, we would have been happy, and frankly, that's who we probably would have picked anyway," Stevenson said. "But this is an underdog story, and instead of it being the obvious choice, it's the people's choice. We couldn't be happier. Cleveland got behind Hillis in a huge way and treated this like their Super Bowl." Stevenson added he isn't worried about the prospect of declining sales for "Madden NFL 12" due to Hillis' lack of standing as a household name, pointing to overall awareness of the game's Aug. 30 release that was boosted by the cover vote bracket. "We've already seen five times the media stories this year for this than we had last year with ['Madden NFL 11' cover athlete] Drew Brees," Stevenson said. "We've also had more than 30 million views on our Facebook page alone through this. We've seen the power of what can happen when you engage all 32 teams" (Fisher). ESPN's Michelle Beadle said to Hillis after the announcement was made yesterday, "The city of Cleveland basically put their entire lot of hopes and dreams into you. This is like their way of beating whatever curse it is that's taken over their sports" ("SportsNation," ESPN2, 4/27). 

FIGHT IN THE DAWG: Following the announcement that he would appear on the cover, Hillis said that he "was 'excited' and he didn't think he had a shot against Vick, whom he has 'always looked up to.'" Vick said that he "was happy for Hillis and was proud of how far he made it in the voting." He added, "My fans, they stuck in there. I made it this far and that’s a plus for me." Vick, who was "attempting to become the first player to appear on the Madden cover twice, also used the Internet to boost his candidacy, with his official website redirecting fans to the ESPN.com Madden vote" (ESPN.com, 4/27). ESPN.com's Jon Robinson wrote Hillis' victory "has to be one of the biggest surprises in 'Madden' cover history." Robinson: "Just goes to show why online voting is so fun to follow" (ESPN.com, 4/27). YAHOO SPORTS' Chris Chase wrote, "How did a guy who had 81 career carries prior to last season outlast a field of some of the NFL's biggest stars? The fact that he was the first white running back to rush for 1,000 yards didn't hurt, nor did the voting habits of a rabid Cleveland fanbase" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/27). Meanwhile, the WALL STREET JOURNAL's Lee Hawkins wrote under the header, "A Branding Blow For Michael Vick." The Eagles QB has a "way to go before totally regaining his mojo as a corporate sponsor if an online vote by video gamers is any indication" (WSJ.com, 4/27).
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