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Volume 21 No. 1
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Sunday Ticket fans jump on ‘Madden’ offer

Eyebrows first rose back in May when EA Sports teamed with DirecTV and Amazon to offer a special $99 version of the “Madden NFL 25” video game that also included a free 2013 subscription to NFL Sunday Ticket. The retail value of the Sunday Ticket subscription alone is as much as $300, making the offer a deep discount.

Copies of Madden have poured onto eBay after the special promotion.
But the promotion, limited to 100,000 total purchases on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 platforms, did not play out quite as EA Sports executives had planned. Since the game’s Aug. 27 release, thousands of “Madden NFL 25” game discs have hit secondary markets such as eBay and Craigslist with the NFL Sunday Ticket activation code removed, suggesting many consumers simply wanted a cheaper way to view out-of-market NFL games and had little to no interest in the video game.

The “Madden” offer also represents the only prominent way consumers can get NFL Sunday Ticket on a digital-only basis, as neither a satellite dish nor a DirecTV subscription is needed to get the out-of-market games with the promotion. DirecTV does offer a digital-only version of NFL Sunday Ticket for those who certify they cannot receive satellite TV, but this service is not actively marketed. Digital access as part of a premium package with the linear NFL Sunday Ticket package has been available for six years, and support with full-featured mobile applications started in 2010.

DirecTV servers showed some strain during the opening week of the 2013 NFL season, as the online game video ran slowly during much of the afternoon of Sept. 8.

This broad advent of digital-only consumption of NFL Sunday Ticket arrives as the league is actively determining the future of the premium-level product, which is estimated to have about 2 million subscribers. The NFL’s current, exclusive pact with DirecTV expires after the 2014 season. But the league has been in early-stage talks with a variety of digital and linear media outfits, and at this point nothing is being ruled out. An NFL Sunday Ticket that includes a broad digital-only offering, or even team-specific packages, remains a possibility.

“What we’re trying to figure out is what is the right path for Sunday Ticket for both our fans and our business partners,” said Brian Rolapp, NFL Media chief operating officer. “How do we use technology to make this product better? How can we reconfigure this to make sure that everybody who wants Sunday Ticket and is willing to pay for it can get it? That’s what we’re trying to understand, and what’s informing our talks. Long term, we’re after both platform innovation and product innovation.”

DirecTV Chief Executive Mike White said in a recent earnings call with analysts that he was “optimistic … Sunday Ticket will stay with us for the long haul.” In the meantime, the satellite system has sent a survey to some of its subscribers gauging their interest in the possibility of digital-only and team-specific versions of NFL Sunday Ticket.

“It’s clear that DirecTV is looking at all sorts of interesting ways to monetize Sunday Ticket,” said Rich Greenfield, media and technology analyst with BTIG. “I would expect some sort of clarity on all this by the end of this season.”

First-week sales of “Madden NFL 25,” which retails for $60, were down a sharp 39 percent from last year’s comparable figure, reaching 1 million units. But company officials and analysts say the forthcoming release of next-generation gaming consoles Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in November are more at the root of the current slowdown as opposed to the glut of “Madden” games in the resale markets.