EA wipes out rival NFL titles with new licensing deal

Dominance of NFL sports games assured as EA plays its ace in the hole against ESPN.

Leading publisher Electronic Arts has announced the signing of an exclusive five-year deal with the NFL and its players association, effectively eliminating any competition to the firm's NFL sports titles from rival publishers.

The deal signs the National Football League and the NFL Players Inc licensing division into five years of exclusivity with EA, preventing any other company from using the NFL brands, stadiums, player names and player likenesses in their games.

The deal will come as a devastating blow to SEGA and Take Two, whose ESPN sports range made up significant ground on the EA Sports titles this year thanks to an aggressive $19.99 price point.

Without the ability to use NFL players and brands in next year's game, however, the ESPN NFL titles are likely to sink without trace, as are all other rival titles - leaving EA's Madden NFL and NFL Street titles as the only real contenders in the sector.

EA has been seeking this form of deal from the NFL for several years, but it seems likely that its lobbying became even more intense this year after the pressure from Take Two's pricing forced the firm to drop the prices of several of its own range of sports titles.

The company also admits to paying a premium for the exclusive license, but chairman Larry Probst clearly believes that the price was worth it, enthusing in an official statement that "we are excited about the opportunity to further enhance our relationship with the NFL and Players Inc. The five-year agreements will usher NFL fans through the console technology transition with new ideas and innovative game play experiences."

Take Two, understandably, is somewhat less impressed with the deal. "We believe that the decisions of the National Football League and Players Inc to grant an exclusive license for videogames do a tremendous disservice to the consumers and sports fans whose funds ultimately support the NFL," the publisher said in a statement, "by limiting their choices, curbing creativity and almost certainly leading to higher game prices."

However, the company claims that the loss of the NFL brand will not affect its bottom line significantly, and moved to reassure shareholders that the negative impact to the firm will be insubstantial.

"While sports games in general are an important part of Take-Two's product diversification strategy," the firm explained, "the licensed NFL game we distributed on behalf of SEGA this year was not a material contributor to our profitability to date, nor was it expected to be a meaningful contributor in the upcoming year. We remain committed to continued diversification of our product portfolio, including sports."

The exclusive NFL deal isn't the first exclusive sports licensing deal that Electronic Arts has struck - with one high profile example being the firm's exclusive licensing deal with the English Premier League, which has forced rival titles such as Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer series to use fake player names and rename famous clubs, with Liverpool becoming Merseyside Red, for example.

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