Sports Game Exclusivity (Almost) Strikes Again

Last year, Electronic Arts brokered a deal with the NFL that saw EA gain exclusive rights to the publishing of NFL-branded video games. Take-Two, EA's biggest competitor in the sports market responded with a deal granting Take-Two the exclusive third party rights to Major League Baseball games. Rumors had it that EA followed up with an attempt to get exclusivity with the National Hockey League. It seems that rather than going to the NHL itself, however, EA went to the NHL Player's Association. The NHLPA agreed without consulting with the NHL, and the NHL wasn't too pleased about that. "I think choice is important," said NHL marketing VP Brian Jennings. "We were not comfortable going with an exclusive model. We think having two highly motivated partners in this space, three with Sony, means more compelling games for our fans." The NHL demanded Take-Two be allowed to get in on the deal as well.

But the EA deal immediately drew the ire of the league brass, who felt all parties were better off with multiple licensees, especially because the NHL 2K series of games from Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. has generally been better received by the gaming community.

The fact that the union had commanded a premium for exclusivity, with none of that extra revenue going to the league, also did not go over very well. In the video game category, leagues and players associations traditionally split royalties of 14 to 16 percent down the middle. But by being first to the table with EA, the NHLPA positioned itself to collect the majority of revenue from the category.

Oddly, if the current situation were to continue, EA's hockey game could use all real player names, but no league logos or team names; Take-Two's game could use team names and logos, but no player names. However, faced with this kind of outcome, it's unlikely either company would be particularly thrilled. With the NHL and the NHLPA split on which company they support, expect to see third-party rights go to both EA and Take-Two, with first-party rights (ie, games made by console manufacturer Sony) uncontested.