NFL owners approve exclusive renewal with Electronic Arts, alter distribution rule for CBS and FOX games

NFL owners approve exclusive renewal with Electronic Arts, alter distribution rule for CBS and FOX games thumbnail

Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs looks to pass against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020 in Miami, Florida.

Focus On Sport | Getty Images

It was business as usual on Thursday for the National Football League.

League owners approved a series of proposals, including the renewal of the NFL’s exclusive video gaming rights with Electronic Arts. The firm’s sports division (EA Sports) produces the popular Madden NFL football series. Terms of the new multi-year agreement were not made available. 

Brian Rolapp, NFL executive vice president and chief media and business officer, said the league spent a year analyzing the gaming sector and listening to pitches from rival firms, including 2K Games, owned by New York-based Take-Two Interactive Software. Rolapp said EA made the “most compelling case and beat out the competition pretty profoundly.”

Rolapp called EA’s innovation plan “compelling” and a big reason why team owners agreed to renew the agreement. EA’s exclusive partnership with the NFL commenced in 2005, with multiple multi-year extensions keeping the connection active.  

OneTeam Partners represented the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) with the agreement’s licensing element. Formed in November 2019, the company collaborated with the Major League Baseball Players Association and investment firm RedBird Capital to help athletes maximize their name, image and likeness.

“EA Sports and Madden NFL are such pivotal points of connection for NFL players, the sport and its fans,” said NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith in a statement. “We have a shared vision to expand the fanbase of football through interactivity, and we’re thrilled to continue our strong partnership with EA SPORTS to bring this to life in more ways than ever.” 

Fox Sports TV cameras during an NFL game in December 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida

David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

Broadcast business 

The NFL also altered a rule around its media distribution of live games on Sundays. Rolapp said the “single-header protection” rule would be “loosened.” The rule prevents the “double-header” network (CBS or FOX) from simultaneously airing games in markets where the home team is playing.

Starting next season, Rolapp said fans can now expect to see three games four times per market. Last year the NFL tweaked the rule to twice per market. Following the 2020 year, Rolapp said the NFL could change the rule again to make it more fan-friendly.

“I think we will continue to look for opportunities to perpetuate that model, which is a broad distribution of our games,” Rolapp added. “What that will look like – we’re still working through, but technology will have a big part of that. I think you will continue to see us push how we can get more football to fans on an easy access basis.”

According to Atlanta Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay, league owners had the “longest discussion” about the onside kickoff alternative. The option would allow teams to chance to bypass attempting an onside kick in favor of converting a 4th-and-15 play from their 25-yard line. 

McKay, who is also chair of the NFL’s competition committee, said owners tabled the proposal recommended by Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. He cited owners’ needing more time to address questions about the “fairness” of the plan. 

“Rules like this take time,” McKay said. “That’s a pretty major change in giving the offense the ball on 4th and 15. There is a lot of things to talk through, and that’s what we did today.”

Owners did approve other gameplay rules, including permanently expanding the use of automatic replay reviews. Game officials can now review scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul. 

Read More