ESPN playing ball with EA for vidgames

Deal calls for net branding in sports games

ESPN and Electronic Arts have signed a 15-year deal that includes in-game and on-air partnerships.

Financial details weren’t disclosed, but similar deals for major entertainment brands have included advances worth well over $50 million as well as royalties.

Deal, which will begin in 2006, calls for ESPN personalities and branding to be integrated into EA’s line of sports games, including its Madden NFL football games, which are regularly the bestselling games in the vidgame biz.

ESPN and previous vidgame partners Sega and Take Two have been EA’s fiercest competitors for sports vidgames. Losing ESPN is a blow for both of them.

A Take Two rep said the companies would continue to publish sports games without ESPN as a partner.

In addition to in-game integration, ESPN will use EA assets and technology in sports, news and other broadcasts.

“We will look for ways we can use their technology to enhance our coverage of games and news and information about games,” said ESPN exec veep John Skipper. “This is a deal that will look at ESPN and EA as marketing platforms for each other.”

Deal is part of a growing trend for media brands to sign comprehensive, long-term licensing contracts with vidgame partners instead of one-off licenses for individual games. Last year, Nickelodeon signed a five-year deal with vidgame publisher THQ worth approximately $75 million.

Partnership between ESPN and EA extends through 2020 but can be terminated in 2015 if certain conditions are met.