By Barry Janoff
September 29, 2010: John Madden last coached an NFL game in 1978 and retired as an NFL broadcaster after 30 years in 2009. He has appeared in numerous TV commercials, from Miller Lite and Ace Hardware to the current "tough actin' Tinactin." But his career as the catalyst behind EA Sports' Madden NFL franchise, which began in 1988, is arguably what makes him most relevant to consumers in 2010..
Although Madden NFL is a franchise that has far from run its course — Madden NFL 11 moved more than 1.8 million copies this past August when it was released — executives at EA are dealing with a situation that reared its head several years ago: As John Madden himself spends less time in the spotlight, strategies needed to be enacted that would keep the Madden name relevant to young, up-and-coming videogame players.
The team at EA Tiburon in Florida has extended the videogame experience into a bevy of other areas of accessibility, including Madden online and iPhone apps. This week, EA Sports launched on Facebook an in-your-face competition that will encompass more than 40 universities nationwide: The Madden Campus Challenge. The tournament pits teams of students against other college rivals to find the best Madden players, with schools being eliminated until only one is left through Nov. 8. The winning team will win a trip to the Madden Bowl XVII, which will take place in Dallas as part of Super Bowl XLV festivities.
Among the participating universities with EA Facebook destinations are Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Boston College, Colorado, Florida State, Florida, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, USC, Oregon, Wisconsin, Washington and Washington State. (Complete list and details here.) Practice rounds are being held at local restaurants in preparation of the official team event being launched beginning the week of Oct. 4.
However, while this premiere Madden Campus Challenge event gets Madden NFL up-close and personal with students at universities across the country, it is part of a larger strategy being ramped up by the folks at EA.
"How do we keep Madden relevant with consumers? The plan is to build the Madden brand so it is not tied to John Madden the NFL coach or John Madden the NFL broadcaster," said Chris Erb, senior director of partnership marketing for EA Sports. "Our brand is becoming like Kleenex. It's Madden."
Madden NFL has sold more than 85 million copies since 1988 for more than $3 billion in sales, according to EA Sports. Madden NFL 11 was the top-selling game this past August when it made its debut, moving 920,800 units for Xbox 360 and 893,600 units for PS3, according to market and research firm NPD Group, Port Washington, NY. Madden NFL 10 was the top-selling videogame in August 2009, selling almost two million copies in just over two weeks. But that was down from Madden NFL 09, which sold more than 2.2 million copies (with Brett Favre on the cover) following its August 2008 release, a 6% increase from the prior year.
Before taking on his current duties in 2009, Erb was director of marketing for the Madden NFL brand for five years, working on domestic and international marketing campaigns and and overseeing programs with marketing partners including KFC, Doritos, Pepsi, 7-Eleven and Coors. He shared his first-hand knowledge of where the Madden franchise has been, where it is and where EA Sports would like it to go during the IMG Sports Marketing Symposium in New York earlier this month, run in conjunction with Sports Business Journal and Daily.
"The average age of our videogame consumer is 34. The average Madden user is 31," said Erb. "The consumer base can be broken into three groups: They know John Madden as an NFL coach, they know him as an NFL broacaster/analyst or they know him as the guy whose name is on Madden NFL."
Erb explained that the latter group is growing because older consumers who know that Madden coached the Oakland Raiders to the Super Bowl XI (1976) title and those who listened to his NFL broadcasts have either moved on from serious videogame play or are spending much less time doing it. A major advantage is that EA Sports has an exclusive deal with NFL and NFLPA for use of shield and players through 2013, keeping rivals out of the official NFL category.
"How do we keep Madden relevant with consumers? The plan is to build the Madden brand . . . Our brand is becoming like Kleenex. It's Madden."
"People have come up to [Madden] and said, 'So you're the guy who builds Madden NFL,'" Erb related. "The plan is to build the Madden brand so it is not tied to his time as an NFL coach or NFL broadcaster."
With the Madden NFL 11 launch, EA Sports for the first time asked fans and consumers to name the cover athlete. The effort was done in conjunction with PepsiCo's Doritos brand, enabling people to go to a dedicated Doritos Change the Game Web site to vote among New Orleans Saints quarterback and Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen and Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne. Voters were also entered into a drawing for a chance to win a trip to the 2010 NFL Draft. During the voting period, former NFL all-stars and Madden NFL cover athletes Eddie George, Marshall Faulk and Shaun Alexander were featured on limited-edition Nacho Cheese and Cool Ranch Doritos bags.
EA Sports also launched a partnership with Coors Light, now in its final season as the official beer partner of the NFL, giving videogamers of legal drinking age the opportunity to showcase their videogame talents at participating bars and restaurants nationwide. The competition, which runs through Dec. 31, is offering such prizes as a trip to the Madden Bowl in Dallas; getting their face scanned into Madden NFL 12; copies of Madden NFL 11 and discounts on select EA Sports merchandise. Coors has supported with national marketing, including online and POP.
"EA Sports continues to bring Madden to the people in new and creative ways," said Erb. "This promotion with Coors Light gives fans not only a way to play Madden NFL, but to become part of it."
Madden NFL 11 also includes a cause marketing mode, working with Susan G Komen for the Cure in which teams that play home games on the Madden October schedule acquire pink shoes, gloves, wristbands and other attributes to coincide with the NFL's support of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
A significant part of the new strategy has been to turn the release of Madden NFL into an entertainment event, closer to the release of a new movie than a videogame. "We started to give the Madden NFL launch more of a theatrical support, like a movie," said Erb. "The marketing behind the Madden franchise began with brief radio commercials. Now, EA makes Madden videogames into a festivity and commemorates it with parades, giveaways and player appearances."
In 2010, the release party for Madden NFL 11 occurred in New Orleans to honor both cover athlete Drew Brees and the Saints victory in Super Bowl XLIV. "Madden Gras" included parade that was a scaled down but equally raucous version of Mardi Gras through the French Quarter with such former Saints players as Ricky Jackson, Deuce McAllister and Mike McKenzie and free goodies including copies of Madden NFL 11 and autographed Drew Brees items.
In 2009, Madden NFL 10 was released with a full-blown campaign across ESPN's family of networks, which included extensions on-air, online, on mobile and in social media applications. The Madden NFL 09 event in August 2008 was dubbed Maddenpalooza, with a day-long event at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., that featured retired NFL athletes, concerts, events and a Wal-Mart pop-up store where the videogame was on sale the day before being released to the general public.
Madden NFL 08 in August 2007 took over New York's Times Square with giant billboards and an Ozzy Osbourne concert above the Hard Rock Cafe. Madden NFL 07 in August 2008, the first for Wii and PS3, had its launch party in Madden, Miss., where every resident got a copy and an invitation to a party that was attended by such stars as Jerry Rice, Warren Moon and Marshall Faulk.
John Madden was on the cover from the first release (June 1988) through Madden NFL 2000 (aging along the way in photos), although Garrison Hearst (then with the San Francisco 49ers) appeared on some alternate versions for Madden NFL 1999 and Barry Sanders appeared in the background of Madden NFL 2000. Eddie George was the first player to be featured, on Madden NFL 2001, with a small shot of Madden over his shoulder. Brett Favre appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 09 in his Green Bay Packer, uniform, with the game having been released after he retired. But when Favre came out of retirement and was traded to the New York Jets, EA released a new cover online with the quarterback in his new uniform. Madden 10 had two players, Super Bowl XLIII stars Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu. Madden 11 was the first in which fans and consumers were asked to select the cover athlete.
There also has been more emphasis on the music attached to the game. The Madden NFL 10 soundtrack includes Nirvana, Black Sabbath, 2Pac, Kid Rock, System of a Down and Alice in Chains. Madden NFL 11 includes AC/DC, Blur, Bush, Guns N' Roses, Kiss and The Hives.
Plans for Madden NFL 12 have not been unveiled. What will future Madden NFL versions bring? "More partnerships with brands [and] more incentives to partners, such as exclusive tips that unlock [unique aspects] in the game itself ," said Erb. As for a complete conversion to online, "Shiny discs are still what we do, and will be central for at least five more years," said Erb. "But we are working on the technology and logistics to have it all accessible online."