EA Heads to the Big Show

Electronic Arts and ESPN plan more cross-promotion as part of the exclusive 15-year deal between the respective video-game and sports brands

When Electronic Arts, the biggest sports video game maker, signed an exclusive 15-year deal with ESPN, the most recognizable name in U.S. sports, both companies said blending the interactive and traditional entertainment mediums was key to the relationship. "Madden Nation," a resultant program on ESPN2, proved so popular that it will have a second season and has inspired another similar show.

The initiatives show how in addition to integrating the ESPN brand and on-air talent into its games, EA Sports is working with the network on original programming built around its games.

"Madden Nation," which debuted last fall and featured a bus tour where real gamers competed in a video game competition to win cash and prizes, was one of the top shows for ESPN Original Entertainment.

ESPN Interactive Gaming general manager Raphael Poplock confirmed that a second season of the show will air in the fall. He said this was in addition to a new program focusing on EA Sports' NBA franchise, titled "NBA Live Nation," which is in development.

"We will continue to explore lifestyle programming around video games, and we're also taking a strong look at tournament gaming," Poplock said. "We explore opportunities on a day-to-day basis with our partners at EA, and we think these brands coming together is pretty compelling, especially for sports fans."

The "Nation" line of lifestyle shows could expand to incorporate other sports and creative projects. To introduce new gamers to the show this year, EA is releasing "Madden NFL 07 Hall of Fame Edition" on Aug. 22 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 2. The special version of the game will include a bonus DVD with additional content, including the entire first season of "Madden Nation," as well as an inside look at EA's Tiburon Studio (where "Madden" is made) hosted by ESPN anchor Trey Wingo.

Gamers also will be exposed to more ESPN content on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in the fall with "NBA Live 07." The next-generation version of the game will stream ESPN new-media and programming content into the video game. The streaming video will be standard definition to start, but high-definition video can be added as early as next year since Xbox 360 and PS3 support HD.

"NBA Live 07" senior producer Brent Nielsen said gamers will be able to select from a variety of clips on a daily basis that can exceed 20 minutes in length. He said clips from shows like "Pardon the Interruption" or interviews and analysis from ESPN personalities will be available in the game. For the NBA draft, gamers can watch sportscasters Greg Anthony, Dan Patrick and Stephen Smith give a draft breakdown and interviews with the picks.

"Our goal at ESPN is to serve our fans wherever sports are listened to, watched or debated," Poplock said. "Video games are another important medium. Our vision is to blur the lines between the virtual sports game world and the real sports game world. When you're connected online, you can stay immersed in your game world and you don't need to go to another device to see what's going on in the real sports world."

Legal and rights issues remain with regard to featuring NBA footage from actual games, but that process is moving forward through negotiations with the NBA. Nielsen said each league will have to approve integrating highlight footage for use on the game consoles.

In addition to the ESPN video content, "NBA Live 07" will feature a real-time sports ticker, ESPN Radio "SportsCenter" updates every 20 minutes and live streaming ESPN Radio podcasts of shows like "Mike and Mike in the Morning" and content from ESPN.com. That's in addition to in-game voice work from ESPN personalities and in-game branding.

"The goal is to include this type of technology in as many of our sports products as our league partners will allow," said Nielsen, who added that this year's "MVP 06: NCAA Baseball" and "Fight Night Round 3" included live sports tickers.

Integration within the video games will continue as well. "NFL Head Coach" features draft analysis from ESPN's Mel Kiper, "NCAA Football 07" has a game mode called "ESPN Instant Classics" and "NBA Live 07" has a Rumor Central feature.

Courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter