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Why the NFL's new 'Madden' deal is about more than video games

Yahoo! Sports logo Yahoo! Sports 5/29/2020 Jay Busbee

a baseball player taking a swing at a ball: The only way we're seeing full stands for a little while. (Courtesy EA Sports) © Provided by Yahoo! Sports The only way we're seeing full stands for a little while. (Courtesy EA Sports) [This is an excerpt from Yahoo Sports’ free morning newsletter. Tap here to get the best sports news in your inbox every morning.]

Morning, friends, and welcome to the weekend! Got big plans? … yeah, me neither.

One thing I will be doing, this weekend and for the foreseeable future, is playing Madden, the NFL’s signature video game. Under a new extension announced Thursday, EA Sports will keep producing Madden titles at least through 2025.

The Madden deal will reap an estimated $1.6 billion for the league and players, but really, unless you stand to get a check, who cares about that? The way this benefits the rest of us — and our kids — is that through EA, the NFL is working to attract younger and younger fans.

The NFL has seen what’s happened to baseball, which didn’t adjust to changing times and now faces an uphill battle capturing the youth market. At the same time, the NBA has created an entire virtual basketball league, and NASCAR leaped headlong into iRacing during lockdown. There are legions of fans of esports who play video game versions of sports quite happily without ever watching the “real” version. (Or without knowing who the "Madden" guy is in the title, for that matter.)

It’s that slippery youth market the NFL wants to reach. The NFL’s got you and me in its clutches, and we’re not leaving. What it wants is our children, potential fans/customers who come to football via nontraditional outlets like mobile games and Twitch.

The EA deal is designed to heighten and strengthen that nontraditional, digital-first connection, so much so that if you were to, say, purchase a team sweatshirt in real life, your coaching avatar in the game could sport the same sweatshirt. (And if you think that’s a silly bit of gaming trifle … check with a kid and see how much they spend on in-game purchases for games like Fortnite or Call of Duty. Sooner rather than later, if it’s your money they’re spending.)

Maybe this is the quarantine talking, but there’s a lot to be said for hyper-realistic gaming simulations where I control every outcome. Weird how my team always seems to beat the Patriots, year in and year out, isn’t it?

Now, if we could just force the NCAA to get its act together and bring back a college football game …

Enjoy the weekend, y’all, and we’ll see you back here Monday.

[For the best sports news delivered right to your email inbox every weekday morning, free, subscribe to the Yahoo Sports newsletter here.]

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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