Sports

NFL owners approve renewal with Electronic Arts, ease distribution rule for CBS and Fox games

Key Points
  • NFL team owners approved a renewal of the NFL's exclusive video gaming rights with Electronic Arts., which produces the popular Madden NFL football series.
  • They also eased restrictions on how many games CBS and Fox can broadcast on Sundays.
  • "I think you will continue to see us push how we can get more football to fans on an easy access basis," the NFL's Brian Rolapp said.
Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs looks to pass against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020 in Miami, Florida.
Focus On Sport | Getty Images

National Football League team owners have renewed the NFL's exclusive video gaming rights with Electronic Arts and eased restrictions on how many games CBS and Fox can broadcast on Sundays.

Terms of the multiyear agreement with EA Sports, which produces the popular Madden NFL football series, were not announced. 

Brian Rolapp, NFL executive vice president and chief media and business officer, said Thursday the league spent a year analyzing the gaming sector and listening to pitches from rival firms, including 2K Games, owned by New York-based Take-Two Interactive Software. Rolapp said EA made the "most compelling case and beat out the competition pretty profoundly."

Rolapp called EA's innovation plan "compelling" and a big reason why team owners agreed to renew the agreement. EA's exclusive partnership with the NFL started in 2005, with multiple extensions keeping the connection active.  

OneTeam Partners represented the National Football League Players Association with the agreement's licensing element. Formed in November 2019, the company collaborated with the Major League Baseball Players Association and investment firm RedBird Capital to help athletes maximize their name, image and likeness.

"EA Sports and Madden NFL are such pivotal points of connection for NFL players, the sport and its fans," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said in a statement. "We have a shared vision to expand the fanbase of football through interactivity, and we're thrilled to continue our strong partnership with EA SPORTS to bring this to life in more ways than ever." 

Fox Sports TV cameras during an NFL game in December 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida
David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

Broadcast business 

The NFL also altered a rule around its media distribution of live games on Sundays. Rolapp said the "single-header protection" rule would be loosened. The rule prevents the "double-header" network (CBS or Fox) from simultaneously airing games in markets where the home team is playing.

Starting next season, Rolapp said fans can now expect to see three games four times per market. Last year, the NFL tweaked the rule to twice per market. Following the 2020 year, Rolapp said the NFL could change the rule again to make it more fan-friendly.

"I think we will continue to look for opportunities to perpetuate that model, which is a broad distribution of our games," Rolapp said. "What that will look like — we're still working through, but technology will have a big part of that. I think you will continue to see us push how we can get more football to fans on an easy access basis."

Owners also approved a game rule to permanently expand automatic replay reviews. Before Thursday's action, the rule for reviewing scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul was temporary. 

They also had a long discussion about an alternative to onside kickoffs, Atlanta Falcons President and CEO Rich McKay said. The option would give teams a chance to bypass attempting an onside kick in favor of converting a fourth-and-15 play from their 25-yard line. 

McKay, who is also chair of the NFL's competition committee, said owners tabled the proposal recommended by Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. He said owners need more time to address questions about the fairness of the plan. 

"Rules like this take time," McKay said. "That's a pretty major change in giving the offense the ball on fourth-and-15. There is a lot of things to talk through, and that's what we did today."

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