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TheStreet Open House

Is This the Last Super Bowl for Madden NFL?

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- On the eve of its third fiscal quarter earnings announcement and just days from Super Bowl XLVIII, this should be a moment of triumph for Electronic Arts and its Madden NFL football video game franchise.

Madden NFL 25 was the third best-selling game in the U.S. last year according to NPD Group, and the first of two EA games (Battlefield 4 being the other) in last year's Top 5. EA just released its pre-Super Bowl and Pro Bowl roster updates for the game and is still bolstered by the enthusiasm for the new Sony Playstation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One consoles.

That's likely where the good news ends. When the calendar flipped to 2014, EA Sports' exclusive license from the National Football League and the National Football League players' association expired. The last time a gamer played an NFL-licensed console game with actual player names attached to it was the last time he or she fired up a copy of Take Two's NFL 2K5 -- released just less than 10 years ago.

EA was absolutely ecstatic to get exclusive NFL and NFLPA rights when entering the deal back in 2005, but the company was alone in its joy. Gamers raised on the 2K titles and games such as Tecmo Bowl hated the lack of options and filed a class-action lawsuit against EA in 2009 on the grounds that it violated antitrust laws. While the NFL has an antitrust exemption dating back to the 1960s, it doesn't extend to partners such as EA, which settled with gamers for $27 million last year.

NFL players weren't exactly thrilled with the deal, either. NFL retirees accused their union of rejecting more money from 2K Sports in favor of a deal that used their likenesses without permission. They sued the NFLPA and, eventually, took home a $24 million settlement.

Robin Antonick, a developer who helped create the original John Madden Football for personal computers back in 1988, is also seeking his cut. During the game's 25th anniversary last year, Antonick and EA celebrated by spending much of the year in court awaiting a decision on $11 million in damages awarded to Antonick. That money is still in limbo.

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