Huge 'Madden' sales blitz? You can Brett on it


At 70 million units sold and counting, it's the most important sports franchise in video game history, so Electronic Arts pulled out all the stops for its newest release.

For "Madden NFL 09," EA threw a party first at CocoDeVille/STK last week then Monday at the Rose Bowl. The former drew such celebrities as Hugh Hefner, Kevin Federline and Tom Arnold. The latter was for the die-hard fans who wanted to get a sneak preview at the game and hobnob with such NFL greats as Marcus Allen, Eric Dickerson, Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk.

EA declined to say how big its Tuesday game launch was, but Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia said channel checks are promising, and shares of EA leapt 2.2% on Tuesday.

" 'Madden' is the absolute, most consistent video game in the industry," said one money manager who specializes in video game investments. "There's not even the slightest fear this title will flop."

Such enthusiastic endorsements are the usual. The title, for example, was named Best Sports Game at the recent E3 convention, and analysts have noted that "Madden" releases lead to increased sales of the hardware platforms needed to play the games; in this case that means just about all of them.

"It's a cultural phenomenon," an EA spokeswoman said. "Men line up at midnight to buy the game then take the day off of work to play it."

This time, the "Madden" release received an extra dose of free publicity when cover-boy Brett Favre was traded to the New York Jets. It was too late to alter the image that adorns the new game, so EA is letting consumers download new packaging via its Web site.

Then there's also what has become the ritual of "Madden Curse" speculation. It seems that every player chosen for a "Madden" game cover, dating back to Garrison Hearst in 1999, has a bad season, or worse. Michael Vick in 2004 probably is the best example, considering that he now sits in prison and his career might be over.

Plus, it's the 20th anniversary of the "Madden" franchise, which ups the ante a bit for EA, and its exclusive contract with the NFL is winding down, making the success of this particular launch especially important.

No wonder investors and analysts are keyed in to "Madden" for now. After sales data flows in proving it was a success, the focus can shift back to EA's attempt to buy Take-Two Interactive Software, home of the "Grand Theft Auto" franchise. On the list of the all-time biggest video game franchises, "Madden" is No. 7 and "GTA" is No. 6. (partialdiff)