Two weeks ago The Sports Business Journal, one of the most respected trade journals of the athletic entertainment business, revealed the identity of Madden NFL 2005 cover athlete Ray Lewis several days before EA Sports announced it.
Now it appears they may have broken one of the biggest rumors in the game industry's history.
The May 3 issue of the Journal contained a story with the headline "EA set to pay Players Inc. $1 billion." According to the article, Electronic Arts is in final negotiations with Players Inc., the NFL Players Association marketing arm, to exclusively license all NFL player rights for the next four years. The Journal set the price tag of the deal at $250 million each year, which EA would pay Players Inc.; in other words, a literal billion-dollar contract.
Given the large sums reportedly at stake, the exclusivity of the EA/NLFPA deal would have been almost certainly strict. If such a deal were ever done, no non-EA Sports game could license NFL player likenesses--an almost certainly fatal blow to the Madden series' rivals, such as ESPN NFL Football.
When provided with excerpts from the article by GameSpot, EA Sports representatives promised to pass them along to "someone who can answer your questions." However, off the record, one source close to the company called the story "way off."
While The Sports Business Journal broke the story, it was, ironically, reprinted in the magazine ESPN. This prompted a moderator at ESPNvideogames.com to call the NFLPA. According to the moderator, NFLPA reps denied that anything other than "normal" licensing deals were in play.
When contacted by GameSpot, NFLPA executives said that not only was the story false, but The Sports Business Journal has since run a retraction. EA representatives also later contacted GameSpot to confirm the retraction, a fact that will undoubtedly make fans of the ESPN NFL franchise breathe much easier.