EA Sports (EA), the NFL and ESPN have partnered to bring exclusive broadcasts of the Madden ‘18 NFL Ultimate League to the ESPN App and Disney XD; a channel geared towards teen and pre-teen males. The deal is being marketed as ESPN’s first long-term multi-event competitive gaming partnership and the “first U.S. professional league for competitive sports gaming”. The e-sports competition will include 16 gamers (qualified from a circuit of events) competing head-to-head (starts Friday 2/2) for a chance to play for the Madden Bowl title, live from the ’18 NFL draft on ESPN2. ESPN2 will also be the home for a weekly episodic series (beginning in April) focused on the best players (and storylines) within the Ultimate League.

Howie Long-Short: Video game industry sales rose 11% in 2017 (to $14.6 billion), including $6.7 billion on video game software. The best-selling competitive sports game of 2017 was NBA 2K (2nd overall), with Madden NFL ’18 (4th overall) the only other sports game in the Top 10. EA will release their Q4 ’17 and full-year ’17 earnings report following today’s close. Look for growth in digital revenue; the category up 19% in Q3, helping EA set company records for profitability.

Fan Marino: This isn’t your daily “Pro Sports Launches eSports League” announcement; though, I have a few of those as well (MLS launches eMLS Fifa ’18, NHL to debut esports league by end of season). Competitive sports gaming coming to mainstream cable television is another milestone for the burgeoning industry, as is the $500,000 prize pool; the largest in Madden history. What kind of audience can ESPN expect? For reference purposes, the CW received 670,000 viewers for a one-hour Madden primetime special.

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