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The video game franchise Madden NFL has sold close to 100 million copies. At midnight tonight, that number is going up. That's when Madden NFL '13 goes on sale. It's named after John Madden, the former pro football player turned sportscaster and it's made by Electronic Arts, or EA.
As NPR's Sami Yenigun reports, the game is big business for an enormous tangled web of interested parties.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: EA Sports. It's in the game.
SAMI YENIGUN, BYLINE: Tonight's matchup: Kareem Moustafa versus his buddy, Tommy Mullings.
TOMMY MULLINGS: All right, Kareem, where were you on that one?
YENIGUN: Xbox controller in hand, Mullings leaps off his bed every time there's a big play.
KAREEM MOUSTAFA: No.
YENIGUN: Across nearly every square inch of his walls are team pennants, football posters. Right now, he's laying the smackdown on Moustafa, driving down the field easily with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mullings is a beast at this game. He craves football.
MULLINGS: Yeah, like after the football's done, like, I can't get enough football. So I'll go, like, Sunday nights I'll usually watch football all day and then at night I end my Sundays with a couple of games of Madden.
YENIGUN: And that addiction to football is exactly what EA and the NFL are teaming up to feed. For Mullings, Madden is a video game. But for Peter O'Reilly, VP of marketing at the NFL, it's like an ad for all 32 of his professional teams.
PETER O'REILLY: It's been such a signature title that brings young fans and older fans closer to the game, and allows them to - because it is so realistic, allows them to understand the game, and gives them a year-round way to experience the NFL in their living room.
YENIGUN: Tommy Mullings is playing with Maurice Jones-Drew, the running back for the Jaguars. Jones-Drew is 5 foot 7 in the game and in real life. If he has a lousy day in Jacksonville, Mullings won't run as well when he plays with him online.
MULLINGS: For the leading rush in the pro, he's not doing too much right now.
YENIGUN: Mullings has been playing Madden for years. He admits the gameplay doesn't change all that much with each version, but he still buys a new game every year for the rosters and playbooks. EA has negotiated an exclusive deal with the NFL to make this game, which comes stocked with logos and player likenesses.
Beth Cianfrone is a professor at Georgia State University who studies advertising in video games.
BETH CIANFRONE: Having a new game every year gives all the gamers a chance to see the new changes with their teams. And rather than play with last years team that doesn't have a new quarterback or new offensive system, they're able to sell a new one each season.
YENIGUN: Cianfrone adds that playing these games over and over makes gamers even more aware of the NFL brand. And that's how the Madden franchise has grown for years, with the NFL. As EA Sports sells more games, gamers know more about the sport, and then tune in to watch more football on TV.
Anthony Stevenson is the director of marketing for EA's Madden franchise.
ANTHONY STEVENSON: When you go watch ESPN's SportsCenter, how often do they lead off the show with hockey? Maybe during the Stanley Cup Finals, maybe?
YENIGUN: ESPN is the third sports titan in this web of cross-promotion. Raphael Poplock, V.P. of games and digital partnerships at ESPN, says that even though their big red logo isn't featured in this year's game, they still invested in Madden's success.
RAPHAEL POPLOCK: There's a huge halo effect. If more people become fans of the NFL, whether it's through Madden or any other vehicle, then clearly that's going to help our business. Whether it's more people watching our live games, or our studio programs, or our content across any platform, that obviously helps.
YENIGUN: So, ESPN promotes the Madden brand. Take the virtual playbook. ESPN uses graphics from Madden to explain football's X's and O's on their sports news shows. And Madden fans went to the ESPN website to vote for the player to be featured on the cover of the game.
POPLOCK: Letting fans dictate some of the content, in this case deciding who's going to be on the cover, has been a huge success for us.
YENIGUN: A success for ESPN that breeds a success for Madden, that breeds a success for the NFL. It's a team effort, luring Tommy Mullings to wait in line year after year, for the next $60 game in the series. He says he doesn't even see any downsides.
MULLINGS: Besides your girlfriend getting mad at you for staying up all night playing Madden.
YENIGUN: Considering that more and more women are tuning into football games, maybe Mullings should ask his girl if she's down to play.
Sami Yenigun NPR News.
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