ESPN, EA Do 15-Year Deal

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ESPN and video/computer game powerhouse EA Sports have signed a whopping 15-year deal to develop games using ESPN content and personalities. Either side can get out after 10 years under certain conditions.

The deal will replace a three-year agreement with Sega that expires in 2006. EA will have the right of first refusal on any simulated sports games from ESPN properties.

Why 15 years. "Given the production cycles involved, if you want to make a lot of games, which we do, if just makes sense to be in it for the long haul with one partner", says John Skipper, EVP, ad sales, new media and consumer products, for ESPN. "This signals that EA is that partner."

The deal includes beefing up current EA titles with ESPN program, print and online content (an ESPN halftime report during an NFL videogame, for instance), promoting EA games through an integrated marketing campaign, and developing games based on ESPN properties, which will likely include X-Games, poker, and Outdoor Games titles.

EA makes games for consoles, PC's, hand-held and wireless devices. Its titles include dozens of sports games based on NFL Football, Major League Baseball, NHL Hockey, NASCAR, Tiger Woods Golf and more.

EA Sports recently signed an exclusive deal with the NFL. Previously, ESPN also had a deal to produce games with the NFL, so the move to team up with EA makes a lot of sense if ESPN wants to remain a player in the NFL game business.

But it's more than that, says Skipper. "If our job is to be a sports media company, then we need to reach them when they are talking or logging on."

ESPN is coming out with its own branded Sprint phone in the middle of 2005, to which it will deliver news, clips and, eventually, ESPN-branded EA games. Games are one of the most popular cell phone downloads.

In addition to producing the games, Skipper says the next generation of phones and online gaming will include the ability to access real-time sports news and scores while you are gaming.

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