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A dark cloud hangs over the potential for a new season of football — at least, in the real NFL stadiums. EA Sports’ Tiburon Studio continues developing Madden NFL 12 for all platforms, ensuring all the NFL teams and players will be active on the virtual gridiron by late summer.
“Fans of Madden NFL will not have their seasons interrupted regardless of when the labor issues are resolved,” said Rob Semsey, director of public relations, EA Sports. “EA Sports will release Madden NFL 12 in August, complete with exciting new features and product innovation that will allow NFL fans to fill their desire for football.”
While the NFLPA has decertified, its agreement with EA Sports still provides for the use of the group license that allows the developer to use real players on the teams. Team and league symbols are licensed separately and therefore exempt from the current labor dispute.
The 2011 NFL Draft will proceed as planned at Radio City Music Hall in New York from April 28-30, the result of a provision in the current CBA. All players selected in this year’s draft will be included in their new team uniforms for the new Madden game.
During the draft, teams will be allowed to trade draft selections, but not players. And undrafted players will not be able to sign with teams, or appear in the new Madden game, until a new CBA is agreed upon.
The Madden franchise is an integral part of Electronic Arts annual revenue. The football franchise has sold more than 90 million copies since it launched in 1988. Last year, Madden NFL 11 sold more than 5.5 million copies in the U.S., according to The NPD Group.
Michael Pachter, video game analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities, believes the longer the lockout drags on, the more likely it is that NFL fans will become alienated. He said while Madden is a great experience for gamers, its sales are definitely correlated to the underlying popularity of the NFL, so if the popularity of the NFL suffers, it’s likely that sales of Madden will suffer.
“It’s still too early to call, since the lockout is happening in March and Madden launches in August,” said Pachter. “That’s a lot of time to fix things, although most commentators don’t sound very optimistic. My guess is that a complete cancellation of the NFL season would cost Madden around 50 percent of sales, and a delay of the season would be far less impactful. If the season is only delayed a week or two and fans aren’t alienated, there would be only a very small impact; if delayed through Thanksgiving (when the holiday selling season begins in earnest), the impact would be far greater.”
New Orleans Saints Super Bowl champion and Madden NFL 11 cover athlete Drew Brees was among 10 players who filed antitrust lawsuits Friday to prevent the owners from locking out players.
Semsey said that EA Sports will reveal information about the Madden NFL 12 cover athlete later this month.
Last March, EA Sports partnered with Doritos for a “Change the Game” promotion to allow gamers to choose the Madden cover athlete from a trio of NFL Pro Bowlers, including Brees, the Indianapolis Colts’ Reggie Wayne and the Minnesota Vikings’ Jared Allen. EA could offer a similar program this year.
EA Sports already announced a “U Want ME” promotion for fans to vote on the cover athlete for NCAA Football 12, which will ship this July across all platforms. Gamers can choose from 2011 NFL Draft candidates Nick Fairley (defensive tackle, Auburn University), Jake Locker (quarterback, University of Washington), Mark Ingram, running back, University of Alabama), and DeMarco Murray (running back, University of Oklahoma).
EA Sports is using Facebook for the voting, which closes April 4, and has seen a surge in Facebook fans since launching the contest. The game publisher could take a similar approach with the new Madden, especially since it lags behind NCAA Football on Facebook.
One new feature for Madden has already been announced. Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears, will make its video game debut in Madden NFL 12. Licensing issues with stadium owner Chicago Park District have kept the official stadium out of video games until now.
While that will make Bears fans happy, the real question remains whether the actual Soldier Field — and the other 31 NFL stadiums — will see any football action this season.