After more than 15 years, 2K Games is once again working with the National Football League. The NFL and 2K announced their partnership this morning — although they didn’t disclose the details of the financial agreement. They did confirm, however, that multiple games are in the works. But 2K is warning fans not to expect a simulation-style game like the beloved NFL 2K5. That’s still only happening with Madden at EA.
Beyond that, 2K is only saying what it isn’t talking about yet. It’s not announcing the games themselves as well as developers or release dates yet. But it has multiple NFL projects in “early development” for release after March of 2021.
“The NFL is one of the most successful sports brands in the world, known for creating incredible entertainment for fans,” 2K president David Ismailer said. “We’re thrilled to be back in business with the NFL in a partnership that will span multiple video games centered on fun, approachable and social experiences. It’s exciting to bring together 2K’s expertise in creating award-winning sports games with the NFL’s renowned status as a world-class entertainment and sports organization.”
For 2K, this is part of its ongoing initiative to amp up its game output. It already has annual hits like NBA 2K, and an NFL game could build on that.
“It’s an exciting time for 2K and our fans,” said Ismailer. “We’re growing our sports offerings and building on our core games with new IP, as well as continued support of award-winning franchises, all with the goal of giving our fans more amazing games and entertainment for years to come.”
What does 2K Games’ NFL deal mean for EA and Madden?
Madden publisher EA Sports has had an iron grip on the NFL since it signed an exclusive contract with the NFL in January 2005. I’ve reached out to EA to ask about the state of its agreement with the NFL. I’ll update this story with any comment from the company. But it does seem like it still has a deal that protects Madden as the only NFL sim.
But by working with 2K, the NFL can expand its brand into more games for a wider audience.
“Expanding the NFL’s presence in the world of gaming has become a focus for the League as we look to grow the next generation of our fanbase,” NFL consumer products vice president Joe Ruggiero said. “And reviving our partnership with 2K was a natural step in that effort. 2K is a worldwide leader in sports video games with a proven track record of creating best-in-class and award-winning games. And we look forward to sharing more about the projects we are working on with them in the future.”
What does this mean for EA, though?
EA and the NFL have been negotiating for the last couple of months, according to a source. And those talks cooled off about six weeks ago. Since then, a senior brand director on Madden and one other person involved in the negotiations left EA Sports to go work for the NFL. And now, NFL has a deal with 2K Games.
Couldn’t EA make more NFL games?
But Madden is still safe. The NFL likely doesn’t want two sim games competing for players. But if the NFL wants more football games, why couldn’t EA make them? Because the NFL wants to keep Madden pure.
EA Sports would likely love to make a new NFL Blitz-style game. What it doesn’t want is for the company that makes Madden to make games with bone-crunching, violent hits. Even if EA didn’t use the Madden name, people would still associate the products. But the NFL is potentially more comfortable with a wholly separate partner doing the same thing.
You can already see evidence of this. Fortnite can have Ron Gronkowski in full uniform running around with an assault rifle.
But EA doesn’t have any similar sort of NFL tie-in with its other products like Battlefield V, Apex Legends, or Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville. Epic Games makes Fortnite, and that’s different than if the Madden company has Gronk running around shooting people in its games.
We’ll see what all of this turns into. While a Blitz-style game seems fun, I’m really hoping we get an NFL auto battler.