Armchair QBs Compete to Represent NFL Teams in Esports Tourney

Electronic Arts Inc., maker of the FIFA and Sims video games, is creating a new esports football competition that will allow players to compete on behalf of their favorite pro teams for the first time.

Registration for the Madden NFL Club Championship, which is based on the Redwood City, California-based company’s popular football title, starts Monday. Through live and online elimination events, one player will qualify to represent each National Football League team, culminating in a final during Super Bowl week next February in Minneapolis.

“Every fan of the NFL, every Madden player, has always dreamed of playing for their favorite team,” Todd Sitrin, general manager of Electronic Arts’ two-year-old, competitive gaming division, said in an interview.

Esports, where players vie in tournaments before live and online audiences, has become a big focus for game companies. Activision Blizzard Inc. and Riot Games, owned by Tencent Holdings Ltd., are selling franchises for teams based on their Overwatch and League of Legends titles. Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. plans events next year tied to its NBA 2K18 game. Electronic Arts’ tournament coincides with the new Madden NFL 18 game going on sale Tuesday.

Andrew Wilson, Electronic Arts’ chief executive officer, said in a June interview that he views tournaments as an opportunity to build excitement for the company’s games, unlike Activision CEO Bobby Kotick, who sees esports as a major new revenue source, generating profits from ticket sales, merchandise and TV rights.

“The event structure right now is almost a line item in the marketing budget rather than a line item on the revenue side,” Wilson said.

Sponsors Wanted

Electronic Arts will seek corporate sponsors for the Madden events and is also looking for broadcast TV partners, Sitrin said. Tournaments based on the company’s games have aired on ESPN, Univision and the NFL Network, he said.

The NFL is helping Electronic Arts fund the new competition’s $400,000 prize pool and pay for the live events, Chris Halpin, the league’s head of strategy and consumer products sales, said in an interview. The NFL gets royalties from sales of the games and related content.

The tournaments will generate interest in football among young, tech-savvy consumers who may not spend a lot of time watching sports on TV, Halpin said. He cited competitions the league has already sponsored in stadiums, a mall and a sports bar.

“These were really cool events,” he said. “We saw the demo we wanted.”

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