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The NFL and its Video Game Expansion

For years, the NFL and the NFLPA have awaited Madden as the only annual football video game release. Now, with three upcoming games, that will change. Boardroom spoke to OneTeam Partners’ Henry Lowenfels.

To say business is booming in the NFL would be an extreme understatement. As reported by Sportico, the league’s national revenue for 2021 hit a record $11 billion, inching closer to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s total revenue goal of $25 billion by 2027.

On top of the $11 billion, each of the last five NFL teams that have been sold have eclipsed the previous franchise sale’s price. The Denver Broncos sold for a record $4.65 billion to the Walter-Penner group last month, with Condoleezza Rice later joining the ownership group. All of this has happened as the league’s new $110 billion media deal is set to begin next year. 

What has flown under the radar amongst all of the larger money deals , though, is the league’s expansion in video games. Since 2020, the league has green-lit three new video games in the non-simulation, virtual reality and blockchain genres. Boardroom spoke to OneTeam Partners’ chief product officer Henry Lowenfels about the NFL’s expansion. (OneTeam Partners is the NFLPA’s group licensing representative.)

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“We try to look for the what, the why and the how. It is not good enough for someone to come to us and want to make a football video game,” Lowenfels explained.

Lowenfels said he has been playing video games for more than half his life. That includes the first edition of Madden that was released on Sega Genesis.

“We really try to understand the details of the product of the what, the who the audience is, and why the time is now, and what the execution is going to look like on how they bring it to market and really create an excellent experience,” he added.

The difference between a simulation-style football game and a non-simulation game is that a simulation tries to emulate an authentic NFL experience, whereas a non-simulation is more fantasy-like and unrealistic. Examples of non-simulation games include EA’s NFL Street franchise that had three editions. 

2K’s game was originally slated to come out last year but has since been delayed. “While we are very excited to once again be working with the NFL and NFLPA, our first title under these new partnerships is no longer expected to be released during fiscal year 2022,” 2K said in a statement. “2K will have more to share on their plans for our football offerings going forward.” 

Since then, 2K hasn’t spoken about its upcoming NFL game, and Lowenfels did not give Boardroom an update on the game. What is keeping 2K from making a simulation game is EA’s exclusivity deal with the NFL. The deal that was signed in 2020 is worth up to $1.6 billion, with players getting $600 million and the owners getting the remaining $1 billion. And so, 2K or other video game creators will have to wait until 2026 to see if the league and EA re-up its exclusivity deal again. 

Outside of Madden, the game that has made the most public progress is NFL PRO ERA, the virtual reality video game that will be released later this year. The game is being created by StatusPRO, the company that was co-founded by former football players Troy Jones and Andrew “Hawk” Hawkins. StatusPRO’s investors include LeBron James, Naomi Osaka, Maverick Carter, Drake and Jimmy Iovine. 

“The beauty of what we have as a company is you have the perspective of a player,” Hawk told Boardroom in April. “We have a great mix of people. We have expert developers, expert engineers and first hand experience from athletes. We are all trying to create something you’ve never seen.”

NFL PRO ERA does not have an exact release date, but the company has said the game will hit stores in the fall.  

As for the league’s recently announced blockchain game, NFL Rivals, its description reads:

“Delivering on the fantasy of being a team General Manager, this fun, easy to play game will allow NFL fans and gamers alike to compete against other GMs with their assembled player rosters and teams, building, leveling up and improving their lineup. In addition, fans will be able to own, collect and trade non-fungible tokens (NFTs) of their favorite players through this play-and-own game experience.”

The announcement did not come with images from the game or a trailer but is slated to release in 2023. 

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And of course, the annual release of EA’s Madden game will still happen later this year. While the franchise has been incredibly successful, Madden has also been subject of increasing frustration from fans wanting EA to improve the game to better suit what fans want. 

In reference to Madden and the contract that will expire in 2026, Lowenfels said, “Madden is the flagship football game in our portfolio. Madden has a very hardcore audience, and whenever you have a hardcore audience, you’re going to have extremely polarizing points of view on different elements of the game. We feel that EA is doing a really good job of operating the game and coming out with annual releases, and we continue to be excited to be partnered with EA. We’re not currently considering opening up the simulation style experience.”

With growth in non-simulation, virtual reality, and blockchain technology, Boardroom asked Lowenfels what could possibly be next in its pursuit to gain fans and bring new experiences to consumers.

“We still want to continue to have the widest audience possible,” he said. “We know that seven-year-old children and 70-year-old people sit down next to one another and watch football every Sunday. There is probably not enough content on those ends of the spectrum. As we think about moving forward, we definitely want to keep that in mind.”

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