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Volume 22 No. 19
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NFL, EA team for esports

‘Madden’ tourney first step for league

The NFL is partnering with EA Sports to create a nationwide “Madden NFL 18” tournament involving all 32 teams, and the NFL says a bigger commitment to an esports league is coming.

The newly formed Madden NFL Club Championship will begin with local tournaments in each NFL market to determine which player gets to represent the team in the championship rounds. Each team will organize and market their own tournaments, which may be hosted at NFL stadiums and other team facilities. The championship-round events will be held at the Pro Bowl in Orlando and Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.

The effort builds upon two other, smaller tournaments that EA Sports operates around its “Madden NFL” franchise out of its Competitive Gaming Division, formed nearly two years ago. Unlike the NBA’s partnership with Take-Two Interactive for the NBA 2K esports league set to debut next year, the NFL-EA Sports alliance does not involve the formation of a new league, team franchises or some type of equity transaction. But NFL executives said the creation of the Madden NFL Club Championship is an initial step toward a much more expansive presence in esports.

“We’re building towards a league and talking more about that over time,” said Chris Halpin, NFL senior vice president of licensing and consumer products. “There may be different paths toward that, but we wanted to build scale and awareness in this space, and do that organically. So we see this club championship as a great platform to capitalize on the enthusiasm of the fan base for both ‘Madden’ and the NFL.”

Financial terms for the creation of the Madden NFL Club Championship were not disclosed. EA Sports and the NFL branded it a multimillion-dollar initiative, and were quick to tout the involvement of the entire league, compared to the 17 NBA teams that have committed thus far to the NBA 2K esports league. But the NFL teams’ commitment is not at the same level of the participating NBA teams’.

Like the NBA’s effort, the EA Sports-NFL attempt to build a major “Madden” property is another key test for sports simulation games, which have thus far found little traction in esports compared to first-person shooter games or multiplayer battle arena games.

“We think this makes a big statement to have all 32 teams engaged in this program,” said Todd Sitrin, senior vice president and general manager of EA Sports’ Competitive Gaming Division.

Also unlike many other esports competitions, the Madden NFL Club Championship will not be a strictly professional or closed event. Rather, participation in the tournament will be freely available to anyone, and fans can elect to represent any NFL team without geographic restriction.

Media distribution plans for the tournament are still being finalized. But each of the 32 local tournaments will be streamed on NFL and EA Sports digital platforms, including ones EA Sports operates in partnership with YouTube and Twitch. There also will be coverage of the final-round competitions on the NFL Network.

The development of the tournament arrives as “Madden NFL 18” prepares for its retail release on Aug. 25, with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as the cover athlete. A special “G.O.A.T” (Greatest of All Time) limited edition of the game will be released Aug. 22 with additional content and game enhancements.