In a surprise announcement today following the conclusion of Superbowl XLIV, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell outlined plans to transition from their current focus on physical matches to a system of virtual matches played out in a custom version of EA’s Madden videogame. Citing mounting concerns over the long term health problems associated with repeated concussions and other injuries commonly suffered by players and budgetary pressures created by ever increasing salary caps, the League’s leadership, in conjunction with the individual team owners, came to the conclusion that digitally simulated contests were the inevitable future of Football. By making the transition sooner, rather than later, the NFL hopes to win the support of an entire generation raised on social networking, iPhones and Xbox Live.
With this announcement, EA’s exclusivity deal for the NFL license has been extended through 2030. Details on the version that will be employed in official matches were spares, but comments from EA’s Peter Moore point towards a 11v11 networked match where every position on the field in controlled by a human player. The custom game will also support sophisticated real-time spectator features allowing for a high fidelity television feeds and internet streams with live, human commentary.
Initial reactions to the news could best be described as stunned bewilderment. The Player’s Union filed a protest immediately. The negative fan reaction around the country quickly overshadowed the celebration of New Orleans’ first championship. Representatives from the Arena and Canadian Football Leagues began talking almost immediately about expansion in hopes of absorbing displaced players and disgruntled fans into their own organizations. It is unclear what the full ramifications of this shift will be, but millions of football fans will be watching the changes with apprehension.