NHL checks EA exclusivity offer

Publisher's deal with prohockey Player's Association reportedly nixed by the league, which wants competing games.


After losing the entire 2004-2005 NHL season to a labor dispute between the league and the NHL Players Association, it turns out hockey fans were in danger of losing the 2K7 NHL season as well.

Electronic Arts recently signed a six-year, $44.2 million exclusivity agreement with the NHLPA, but nobody told the NHL itself, according to an article in the Sports Business Journal (subscription required). The deal reportedly only covered third-party games, so Sony could continue its licensing of the Gretzky NHL series.

Upset by the notion that the players would try to go behind its back and essentially impose exclusivity on the deal, the league refused to extend its own licensing agreement with EA unless all parties returned to the negotiating table and found a way to cut Take-Two Interactive in on the deal. Take-Two publishes the NHL 2K series of games through its 2K Sports label, while Electronic Arts has published NHL games dating back to NHL Hockey on the Sega Genesis in 1991. In that stretch of time, the company only once made a game with the Player's Association license but not the league license, NHLPA '93.

In May 2004, the Sports Business Journal broke the news that Electronic Arts was negotiating a four-year, $1 billion exclusive contract with NFL Players Inc., the marketing arm of the NFL Players Association.

The NFLPA denied the report and a retraction was made, but later that year, an exclusive publishing deal was struck between Players Inc., the NFL, and EA, this one for five years and with no dollar amount announced, although the Sports Business Journal NHL article references the current deal and pegs it at $300 million.

Contrary to reports that characterize today's news as coming directly from Electronic Arts, neither EA nor 2K Sports would acknowledge that the NHLPA exclusivity talks had taken place. A spokesperson from Electronic Arts said, "EA has not made any announcement of any sort," while a 2K Sports rep said only that the company was in ongoing negotiations for the NHL and NHLPA licenses.

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