EA, Disney, NFL Sign Multi-Year Distribution Deal For Madden Esports

TNL Take: It's not even February and we've seen several major announcements related to esports media rights and sports leagues:

Now ESPN/Disney, NFL and EA have signed a multi-year exclusive distribution deal for Madden esports. The deal starts with this past weekend's Madden 18 Club Championship which involved all 32 NFL Club Champions and the upcoming Madden 18 Ultimate League this Spring.

Programming will be shown on numerous channels within ESPN and Disney networks: 

  • ESPNEWS: Madden NFL 18 Club Championship
  • ESPN 2/Deports: Madden NFL 17 Club Championship Finals
  • ESPN2: Ultimate League Championship
  • Disney XD/ESPN VOD: Episodic and shoulder content

The agreement shows that EA Sports and the NFL believe that there's a dearth of content during the NFL offseason and this is one way to engage the audience and potentially bring in younger viewers.

The most recent Madden esports TV program finished #1 for 2017 - however that was shown on The CW which is in more homes. 


Here is the interesting question: For Madden 18, the content is also available digitally via several properties including Twitch, YouTube Gaming, Facebook, Twitter and Mixer.

Will Madden 19 see an exclusive digital partner?

Time will tell.

Amazon + NFL + Twitch + Esports = The Opportunity


Last Week The NFL Thursday Game Was On Twitch (Photo: EA Sports)

Last Week The NFL Thursday Game Was On Twitch (Photo: EA Sports)

TNL Take: If you follow me on Twitter you can easily see my Amazon obsession. In the ever changing retail and digital landscape, either you're with Amazon or good luck.

This past Thursday saw a unique collaboration between the NFL and Amazon owned Twitch - not the NFL Amazon Video Thursday night deal but the ability to watch the Falcons vs. Saints game on Twitch for free.

Before we get into the performance, a quick recap of what's been covered already:

-Amazon's Twitch Prime Move Is Genius

-EA Madden, NFL, Amazon, Mobile And ESports

-Amazon + Ticketing + ESports = Opportunity


So what's this all mean?


Here are a few ways it ties together:



Twitch Prime In Game Content (Photo: Amazon)

Twitch Prime In Game Content (Photo: Amazon)

One of the genius elements of Twitch Prime is getting exclusive in game content like Madden card packs on a weekly basis. However as this is based on Amazon Video's deal there isn't the true in game content integration that Twitch has.

Until now.

I'd be surprised if Amazon would move their NFL content tied to Amazon Video off the platform onto Twitch for free but it does give a peek into what could work for future seasons.



Ticket Fairy Powers TwitchCon 2017 Tickets (Photo: Twitch)

Ticket Fairy Powers TwitchCon 2017 Tickets (Photo: Twitch)

I still believe that Amazon will make a move into the ticketing vertical as it's another area ripe for disruption. In fact, as called out previously, Twitch did use the Ticket Fairy for TwitchCon 2017 tickets.

Purchase an NFL Ticket and get Prime for 6 months for free?

Buy an NFL Ticket and get exclusive in game content?

NFL Ticket purchase via Amazon gives you NFL Thursday night access for Free?

There are many ways this can play out.



NFL Merchandise On Amazon (Photo: Amazon)

NFL Merchandise On Amazon (Photo: Amazon)

Amazon is the #1 US online retailer and Top 10 overall retailer in the world. 1-hour Amazon Prime delivery is magic. Now combine this with the points above. 

Buy Amazon NFL Merchandise for exclusive in game content?

Purchase Amazon NFL Merchandise and then receive discount on NFL tickets?

Many more opportunities here as well.



All of this can be tied together for esports as well. While the examples above can drive engagement for Madden competitive gaming, this could easily translate to other titles and genre's.

Amazon recently snapped up the rights to the US Open in the UK and further adds fuel to the speculation that they will be bidding for English Premier League rights as well. FIFA esports anyone?

While there's no league affiliation, the integration of in game content, merchandising and events could translate to Amazon's suite of games to be released from their game studios.

So how did the first NFL game on Twitch perform? 

Not so well with ~10K Average Concurrent Viewership for the game.

For perspective, the Madden NFL Club Championship with the Miami Dolphins drew about 1/3 of that viewership...for esports. More than likely it had to with little promotion or marketing vs. the potential lack of audience.


While it may seem that the whole is greater than sum of its parts, this will still require the blessing of any sports league for full integration.

Hopefully that won't be an obstacle.

Fashion Brand ULT Rolls Out Apparel For Pro Madden Team Versus Sports


Versus Sports and ULT Apparel Partnership (Photo: ULT)

Versus Sports and ULT Apparel Partnership (Photo: ULT)

From Venturebeat by Jeff Grubb

It’s one thing to be great at games. It’s another to look good while doing it. To accomplish both, Versus Sports — the largest professional Madden team — is working with fashion brand ULT on a new line of apparel that captures the squad’s look and feel.

ULT is working to establish itself as the go-to brand for esports fashion products in the same way that people associate Nike, Adidas, or Reebok with traditional athletic sports. So ULT is expanding its partnerships from EUnited — an Overwatch, Call of Duty, and League of Legends team — to also include Versus Sports. This collaboration between Ult and Versus features an Elite Jersey, a long-sleeve T-shirt jersey, and two baseball caps. But ULT isn’t just selling shirts and hats — it is selling the swagger of the Versus Sports competitors. That’s a strategy that more companies in the $696 million esports market are likely going to employ, and Versus wants to lead the way.

Versus Sports Athlete Mark "Schemin" Samuels (Photo: ULT)

Versus Sports Athlete Mark "Schemin" Samuels (Photo: ULT)

“Currently every esports team jersey looks exactly the same with no reflection of key aspects of the this genre: sport, fashion, and athletics,” Versus Sports founder and chief executive Manny Anekal said. “Many brands also miss the mark on telling the story and lifestyle of these gaming professionals. With ULT, Versus Sports found the perfect partner that recognized the team’s brand vision and our cultural ethos.”

Versus Sports Jersey (Photo: ULT)

Versus Sports Jersey (Photo: ULT)

For Versus, this gives the team a unified look that fans can buy into. For ULT, this expands their presence not just into another team but also into a new game in Madden.

“The evolution of the ULT brand into the traditional sports space is something we are very excited by,” ULT brand lead designer Nate Eckman said. “Challenging cultural ideas of athleticism, sport, and fashion for this community is something we at ULT are deeply inspired to do. Being able to partner with Versus Sports and collaborate with Manny Anekal on product ideas and content strategy is a total thrill.”

Versus Sports Hat (Photo: ULT)

Versus Sports Hat (Photo: ULT)

Anekal says the partnership is ideal not because it gives Versus some extra products to generate revenue. Instead, it gives Versus a new way to express itself.

“I wanted to build apparel that was fashion forward and innovative not just in design; but being able to build upon ULT’s content strategy and platform,” said Anekal.

Going forward, you can expect to see brands like Versus making more partnerships like this, and you can also expect Versus Sports players to show up to every match decked out in their ULT gear.


[Disclaimer: Versus Sports is part of the portfolio of companies associated with The Next Level]

EA Madden, NFL, Amazon, Mobile and eSports


EA Madden, NFL, Amazon, Mobile and eSports (Graphic: The Next Level)

EA Madden, NFL, Amazon, Mobile and eSports (Graphic: The Next Level)

EA Madden NFL Year over Year Comparison (Infographic: The Next Level)

EA Madden NFL Year over Year Comparison (Infographic: The Next Level)

This is one of three big changes to EA's Club Series with NFL pro teams. While last year started with 8 - Bills, Jaguars, Chiefs, Vikings, Patriots, Eagles, Steelers and the 49ers - this year, it expands to all 32 NFL teams.



EA 2017 Club Series Champion Prize (Photo: EA Sports)

EA 2017 Club Series Champion Prize (Photo: EA Sports)

The second big change is the amount of money on the line. Last year's 8 total events were for $10K each along with the Club Finals with a $50K prize pool, bringing 2017's total to ~$130K.

Madden 18's Club Championship total prize pool of $400K+ more than triples last year's total...with a catch.



In addition to the Club Series Finals being held at Pro Bowl Experience in Orlando, the winner will also receive 2 tickets to Super Bowl LII - another sign of the NFL's involvement.




Now is where things start to get really fun.

This past Saturday morning  I found something very interesting posted and tweeted the following:

EA Madden NFL 18 and Twitch Prime Integration (Photo: LinkedIn)

EA Madden NFL 18 and Twitch Prime Integration (Photo: LinkedIn)

The reception from the community was overwhelmingly positive and a YouTube video made just around my Tweet has 20,000+ views currently:

Mr.GoldenMut YouTube Video (Photo: YouTube)

Mr.GoldenMut YouTube Video (Photo: YouTube)

Twitch Prime and EA Madden NFL 18 Promotion (Photo: Twitch)

Twitch Prime and EA Madden NFL 18 Promotion (Photo: Twitch)

I've talked plenty about how Twitch Prime is genius and the ability to lure in publishers is so critical and this is another example.



The Patriots Winning Another Super Bowl (Photo: USA Today. Mark J. Rebilas)

The Patriots Winning Another Super Bowl (Photo: USA Today. Mark J. Rebilas)

In April, Twitch owner Amazon signed a partnership with the NFL for $50M to stream 10 Thursday night games to Amazon Prime members.

Everything is about selling Amazon Prime. Everything is about selling Amazon Prime. Everything is about selling Amazon Prime.

If 500K people sign up for Amazon Prime to get access to the NFL content, Amazon breaks even on the media rights. Even if they don't, it's more marketing and programming for their content chest.



EA Madden NFL Mobile (Photo: EA Sports)

EA Madden NFL Mobile (Photo: EA Sports)

One of the least publicized success stories in the mobile gaming space is Madden Mobile. During the NFL season the game is consistently in the Top 10 grossing on the App Store.

Go ahead and check where it is right now.

Amazon has invested greatly with Vainglory and mobile eSports and there's further opportunity here as well.



I covered this last week with Amazon's potential disruption of another industry - ticketing - and the huge eSports opportunity that it holds.

Now add NFL ticket purchases and all the additional value provided with the points above.



Don't discount the NFL finally getting into eSports and putting their name, marketing and executives behind this initiative.

The NFL is the 800-pound gorilla on top of the media and sports food chain.




It's great to see the largest and most popular US sports league jump into the eSports pool.

Now add in cross promotion between EA Madden, watching Thursday NFL games on Amazon, Twitch Prime integration, Mobile, the NFL's marketing machine and the vision starts to emerge.


But here's the reality.


/01 It’s nowhere close to what Activision-Blizzard is building with their Overwatch League, Riot Games’ North American League of Legends League or the upcoming NBA 2K ELEAGUE with more than half of the pro teams included.

For both the NFL and EA to emulate OWL, LOL, and NBA2KELEAGUE in such a short amount of time would have been a herculean task.  The information for the Madden 18 competitive season was released less than a week before the game launches.


/02 The total EA Madden NFL 18 prize pool increased from $1.000M to just $1.153M. EA should clear $750M+ in Ultimate Team earnings from primarily FIFA and Madden this year with continued growth.

Even the Club Series total while seeming high at $400K is the total for 32 teams - when looked at on an individual basis it's also a slight increase over last years $10K prize pool each.

A slight prize pool increase and fewer Athletes being flown out to events - while Ultimate Team dollars continue to flow in.


/03 No details were revealed around either Digital or TV distribution but I'd be shocked if the Madden 18 Championships were not either on a Disney platform or The NFL Network.


04/ Brands - where are they?

While last years Club Series did have brands present like Gillette and the Patriots, these deals were either added value or for very little revenue.


/05 This is the biggest difference between the 3 major upcoming eSports leagues and what European soccer teams are doing with their investment.

While the winners get a much larger prize pool, entry to the Madden 18 Championships and a slew of benefits, what happens with “NFL Club Winner” after this?

This program isn’t like being officially sponsored by a Paris St. Germain, which has many FIFA Athletes represent the club and provide the “3 M’s Of Why Pro Sports Teams Invest In eSports”™ - Marketing, Merchandising and Monetization.


Whichever NFL pro team does decide to become the innovator and begin emulating their European counterparts will start seeing the ROI with real investment in the eSports space much  more quickly than the next teams that will quickly follow suit.