Disney and ESPN have partnered with Electronic Arts and the NFL to bring various Madden competitions, and programming focused on Madden competitors, to ESPN2 and Disney XD.
The move is ESPN’s biggest foray yet into eSports.
Via an ESPN.com release:
ESPN, Disney and the NFL announced on Friday a multiyear deal to broadcast the Madden NFL 18 Championship Series and future leagues surrounding the popular Madden franchise. It’s the first multiyear exclusive competitive gaming broadcast agreement for ESPN.
“We’re thrilled to continue and expand our relationship with EA and the NFL in not only showcasing to our audiences these world class esports competitions for multiple years, but using the myriad of ESPN and Disney global platforms to tell the incredible stories of these competitors,” John Lasker, VP of ESPN digital media programming, said in a statement.
It’s interesting to note the cross-promotion between both ESPN2, the ESPN app, and the Disney XD channel, the sister network to Disney Channel and Disney Junior. They’ve shared eSports programming before with the EVO 2017 championship, so this is clearly a growth market in Disney’s eyes, and mixing ESPN2 and Disney XD could become commonplace going forward.
As for the specific programming involved, it’s definitely a commitment:
The agreement encompasses several ESPN and Disney networks. The Madden NFL 18 Club Championship at the Pro Bowl will be on ESPNEWS; the finals at the Super Bowl will be on ESPN2/Deportes; and the Ultimate League Championship (at the NFL Draft) final will be on ESPN2. In addition, episodic series featuring the players and the stories behind them will air on Disney XD and ESPN VOD.
There will be an ongoing ESPN2 series as well, running for about a month from early April through early May:
• Madden NFL 18 Club Championship from the Pro Bowl, Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPNEWS
• Madden NFL 18 Club Championship Final from Super Bowl LII, Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2/Deportes
• 12 one-hour episodes of the Madden NFL 18 Ultimate League Regular Season, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET running Feb. to April on Disney XD and ESPN VOD
• Half-hour episodes of the Madden NFL 18 Ultimate League Series, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET running weekly from April 3 to May 1 on ESPN2/ESPN VOD
• Madden Ultimate League Championship final from the NFL draft, April 28 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2
That’s a hefty block of programming, although it does come during a time of the year with little else on the NFL calendar. Will it work? Maybe! eSports traditionally struggles to find a market for actual sports games, though; the Venn diagram midpoint for people who enjoy watching sports on TV and people who enjoy watching video games on TV is smaller than many might think, so using sports games isn’t necessarily the way to go.
Madden and FIFA obviously have massive user bases, which could help draw in more casual viewers, but it’s possible this ends up a one-off for Disney. Or maybe people love it! Either way, they’re likely to try more going forward.