While some competitive gaming leagues are content to have their events broadcast online, Electronic Arts is pushing to make its Madden NFL esports a televised staple. The company today announced a "long-term, multi-event competitive gaming agreement" with the NFL, ESPN, and Disney XD that will see the networks receive exclusive broadcast rights to upcoming Madden esports competitions.
The deal kicks off this weekend with the Madden NFL 18 Club Championship divisional finals, which will air at 10 p.m. Eastern on ESPN News. The finals will air this coming Thursday at 9 p.m. on ESPN2 and the Spanish-language ESPN Deportes.
There's not much of an off-season after that, as EA launches the Madden Ultimate League regular season in February. The league will feature 16 pro Madden players going head-to-head over the course of a two-and-a-half month regular season, followed by a post-season and finals to crown a champion. Todd Sitrin, SVP and GM of the Competitive Gaming Division at EA, said the league was "purposely designed to make superstars of our best players, allowing viewers to develop player loyalties and follow competitor rivalries."
Disney XD will air 12 one-hour episodes of the Ultimate League action on Thursdays from February to April, with ESPN 2, Disney XD, and ESPN Deportes also running a half-hour Ultimate League playoff coverage series each Tuesday at 9 p.m. from April 3 through May 1. The Ultimate League finals will take place in Arlington, TX, alongside the NFL Draft, on April 28, and will be aired on ESPN 2.
"We're thrilled to continue and expand our relationship with EA and the NFL in not only showcasing to our audiences these world-class esports competitions for multiple years, but also using the myriad ESPN and Disney global platforms to tell the incredible stories of these competitors," said John Lasker, VP of ESPN Digital Media Programming.
Naturally, EA will be cross-promoting the events from within Madden NFL 18. Beyond introducing an "add-on experience" within the game, EA will sell Madden Ultimate Team content and packs for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 during the Ultimate League season.