‘Madden’ Mania-Popular Video Game Featured in Pay-Per-View Special

  

By Larry Stewart

Times Staff WriterAugust 4, 2006Any way you look at it, Madden is big.

There is the person, John Madden, who is large in both build and stature.

On Saturday, he will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, for his accomplishments as coach of the Oakland Raiders from 1969 to ’79.

On Sunday, he makes his NBC debut on the Hall of Fame exhibition game, becoming the first person to be the lead pro football commentator at four networks, having previously worked at ABC, Fox and CBS.

Then there is Madden the video game.

It has become so big that the next edition, “Madden NFL 07,” which becomes available in retail stores later this month, is the star of a 65-minute, pay-per-view special tonight.

Using pay-per-view television to promote a consumer product is unprecedented.

But EA Sports and ESPN, who have partnered to make the special that is available at 5 p.m. on satellite and cable television pay-per-view channels as well as ESPN.com, are quick to discount the notion that it is little more than an infomercial that costs $19.95.

“There is a critical difference between this show and an infomercial,” said Geoff Reiss, senior vice president in charge of ESPN’s original entertainment division. “An infomercial tries to get you to buy a product. The viewers who pay for this program do not need to be sold. Most of them will be lined up outside a Best Buy, or wherever, at midnight on Aug. 22 to buy the game.”

There have been 6 1/2 million copies sold of “Madden NFL 06.” The company estimates that about half of those buyers are casual players and the other half a mix of avid players and hard-core fanatics.

It’s that second group that the pay-per-view special is out to reach.

“The main goal was to make as entertaining a show as possible. Secondarily, we want to see what the demand is for this kind of show,” said Brandon Barber, senior manager of entertainment marketing for EA Sports.

Both Reiss and Barber said they would be extremely happy with 100,000 buys.

Such demand may well be there.

Sales of the “Madden NFL” series have reached more than $1.5 billion since Electronic Arts debuted it in 1989 — 51 million copies and counting, including sales of more than $250 million for “Madden NFL 06.” It is the No. 1 selling sports video game of all time, and now they have Madden for good. The former coach recently signed a lifetime contract with EA Sports, according to his agent Sandy Montag.

The demand for the game has swelled as its graphics and features have become ever more sophisticated. EA even produced a new edition to coincide with the release late last year of the Xbox 360 in which every seat at every NFL stadium is represented.

The 70-year-old Madden is directly involved in the making of the game, but not the marketing. In Pasadena two weeks ago, he said he wasn’t yet aware of the pay-per-view show.

But he is aware of the game’s popularity. “The people who were around me when I was coaching know me as a coach,” Madden said. “I’m known as a broadcaster by people who watch me on television.

“Whey I get the ‘Hey, Madden,’ it’s the group that plays the video game.”

It is believed that Madden makes considerably more off the video game than the estimated $5 million a year he makes as a broadcaster.

Tonight’s pay-per-view telecast evolved from last year’s eight-episode reality series, “Madden Nation,” on ESPN2. which looked at people who play the video game.

The pay-per-view telecast is more informational than the reality series. Gamers now will have the ability to manipulate a lead blocker and running backs now run as they do in a real game. In other words, Reggie Bush runs differently in the video game than, say, Corey Dillon. The game also rates the NFL players. The highest possible rating is 99, as Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning does.

The show was taped a month ago in an Orlando, Fla., studio and features five of the country’s top Madden gamers, plus EA Sports producers and technicians who work year-round on the game.

Among those five is Rod “Reality” Wynn of Inglewood, who also appeared on “Madden Nation.” Wynn, 30, is now a full-time Madden gamer, having recently quit his job an account coordinator in a heath insurance brokerage office. Although the most he has ever won in a Madden tournament is $1,500, he says he believes he can make a living playing the game.

He now has a sponsor, a gaming website, gorillagamer.com, and says there is no shortage of tournaments; EA Sports sanctions a 32-city tournament that offers a $100,000 prize.

“If you’re really good, although it may be hard to pull it off, you can make more than $100,000 a year playing the game,” Wynn said.

“I think we will see more of this,” said sports television consultant Neal Pilson. “It’s ideal where you have a dedicated but small audience. You might see shows for offbeat sports such as hunting and fishing.”

Paul Swangard, managing director of the James H. Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, calls the Madden pay-per-view show “a good litmus test.”

“It is such an iconic brand in the sports video game genre. Electronic Arts really built its business on the success of Madden, and it’s sort of the flagship property,” he said. “EA has looked to the movie industry for ways to create excitement for its products. But I don’t know if I’ve seen a movie to have a pay-per-view event creating excitement for seeing a product for the first time.”

Might much-anticipated cars or computers be next for pay per view?

“It’s only going to work for brands that have that established, cult following,” Swangard said. “The Madden Nation out there is playing this game, and buys a new version every year. But this also speaks to the idea that EA has paid for the exclusive rights to be the NFL video game producer. As a result, it’s looking for ways to make that money back.”

But, he added, the preview “could be a one-hit wonder.”

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~ by Sactown Raider Boosters on August 4, 2006.

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