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Publisher 2K Games has inked a multi-year, multi-game deal with the NFL to create officially licensed football games. These will be the first licensed NFL football games not made by EA since 2005.
“The NFL is one of the most successful sports brands in the world, known for creating incredible entertainment for fans,” said David Ismailer, president of 2K. “We’re thrilled to be back in business with the NFL in a partnership that will span multiple video games centered on fun, approachable and social experiences. It’s exciting to bring together 2K’s expertise in creating award-winning sports games with the NFL’s renowned status as a world-class entertainment and sports organization.”
While 2K's return to officially licensed NFL games is exciting, that excitement is tempered by the fact that their games will be "non-simulation football game experiences." This means that those who crave a return to ESPN NFL 2K5 will be disappointed.
EA still holds the exclusive publishing rights to strictly simulation NFL football games. In fact, EA was keen to release a statement following 2K's press release:
EA Sports is the exclusive publisher of NFL simulation games, and our partnership with the NFL and NFLPA remains unchanged. Our agreements have always allowed for non-exclusive development of non-simulation games on various platforms. Our commitment to NFL fans, which spans almost 30 years, has never been stronger, and we’re having our biggest year yet. Madden NFL 20 is the most successful game ever in the franchise, and new modes like superstar KO and our Madden NFL esports broadcasts are growing the fan base. We’ll be building on that momentum with more new and different experiences, on more platforms and with new ways to play, in the years to come.
Both the Madden and 2K series enjoyed healthy competition in the early 2000s until EA signed the exclusivity agreement with the NFL in 2004. Many fans still bemoan the lack of competition in the football simulation space. That said, perhaps 2K's return to football will result in more casual, arcade-type games similar to the NFL Blitz franchise.
One thing of note is that while the deal covers names and logos for each of the 32 teams, it does not cover the likenesses of the actual NFL players themselves. An NFL representative confirmed to Polygon that 2K would need to sign an agreement with the NFL Players Association to use any of their likenesses. Whether 2K will follow up on that remains to be seen.
The Polygon article also notes that the only reason 2K was able to strike a deal with the NFL was due to the change in terms for the existing deal between EA and the NFL. The previous deal covered any officially licensed NFL games. EA's current exclusivity deal is set to expire at the end of the 2021 NFL season. While EA will likely try to re-up that deal, the NFL could be willing to give 2K another shot at simulation football if their new games do well.
The first 2K football game will launch in 2021 although it's unknown which of the developers under 2K will actually make the game. The original NFL 2K series was developed by Visual Concepts who was subsequently acquired by Take-Two, 2K Games' parent company.