In January, EA Sports announced a trio of new sponsors for the Madden NFL 19 Championship Series: headset and speaker company Bose, sports cap maker New Era Cap, and candy brand Snickers. While they’re very different brands in terms of market and image, they’re united by a common heritage: all three are also longtime NFL sponsors.
It’s a natural transition, then, for sponsors making the move from the pro football league to the esports league based on the officially-licensed NFL video game. As EA Sports’ national head of sponsorships Vida Mylson sees it, the Madden Championship Series allows NFL sponsors to build upon their existing partnership while reaching and engaging a different kind of audience—one that’s younger and may not follow pro football like previous generations.
Ahead of this weekend’s Madden NFL 19 Challenge major event, The Esports Observer spoke with Mylson about the benefits of Madden sponsorship and why it’s an easy esports entry point for brands already aligned with the NFL. Bose and New Era representatives also shared their perspective about what they get out of the initiative.
January’s sponsorship announcement followed December’s appointment of Paul Johnson, Electronic Arts’ new head of esports commercialization. Johnson joined after more than 15 years as an executive with the PGA Tour, with a focus on digital media and international business development. According to Mylson, his hiring signals a pivot from the company towards building new revenue opportunities around its esports efforts.
“EA’s Competitive Gaming Division has really shifted a lot of its focus to out-of-game commercial growth and development,” she said. “Paul Johnson is going to be taking the lead on that commercialization. He’s about a month and a half in so far, so he’s still pretty new and learning the ropes, but areas such as sponsorships and advertising, merchandising, media rights, and licensing will all play a very large role for the growth of EA and the CGD team.”
Gaming offers brands an opportunity to reach a young and highly engaged audience, said Mylson, and all three of those brands—along with recently-announced Madden Championship Series sponsor, insurance company Progressive—have been EA Sports partners for past Madden games. Now, with Madden esports expanding with this largest-yet $1.255M USD season, it’s an opportunity for them to get in on the competitive side of the series. It also allows Bose, New Era, and Snickers to augment their existing NFL relationships.
“The sports landscape has definitely changed. With that change, we know that there’s a very young audience that is viewing and engaging with sports in a very different way, and even learning about sports in a very different way,” said Mylson. “A lot of these brands understand that their NFL partnerships are super valuable, but they also understand that there has and will continue to be this evolution of youth and what and how they’re currently viewing content today—and where [companies] need to be to gravitate towards that younger, hipper, cooler audience that they’re trying to reach.
“Now, obviously, the evolution is esports,” she added. “It’s just a natural progression of the current state of their programs and where we want to elevate them to reach more audience. Now that we have this whole new world outside of just our gamers playing the games, and now we have viewers watching our gamers play games, it expands the opportunity for them.”
All four of these brands have previous experience in the world of esports, but Mylson said that for brands and companies that are new to the industry, the ability to enter via a traditional sports game—which already has established rules, culture, and a fan base—can ease that transition into an otherwise unfamiliar space. That’s good news for EA Sports, which currently focuses its esports efforts on Madden and the FIFA soccer series.
“It’s definitely a new world for a lot of brands. The entry point specifically for EA that’s made it really interesting—and probably a little bit easier than a lot of other IPs out there—is that the first two titles that we launched esports with are both sports titles,” she said. “Football and soccer are the core of sports when you look at the world and the fascination with soccer from a global perspective, and obviously football from a U.S. perspective. The entry point for a lot of brands today in this ecosystem—it’s a little bit safer for them. And the knowledge and understanding of the sports is obviously there, so there’s a lot of bandwidth for exploration and opportunity.”
Bose is still relatively new to esports, only making its first steps into the scene in October by sponsoring the Overwatch League’s Boston Uprising . The headset maker had previous experience partnering with other Kraft Group-owned franchises, such as the NFL’s New England Patriots. For the Madden Championship Series, Bose’s QuietComfort 35 II headset will be prominently used during competition and featured in the broadcasts.
“Esports opens up an entirely new audience for Bose. Esports fans are younger, use ad blockers, and do not consume content through traditional ad platforms,” said Kyle Graham, who heads global brand partnerships for Bose. “Partnering with EA Sports allows us to reach this audience in an authentic way.”
Just as NFL coaches wear Bose headsets on the real-life sidelines, Madden Championship Players will wear the noise-canceling QuietComfort 35 II headsets. Mylson said that it’s an ideal bit of synergy between leagues: “There’s just that really nice transition from what you’re seeing in the real world and what we’re bringing in through the virtual world of football.”
New Era Cap is a major player in the traditional sports world, offering official caps for NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball teams, along with NASCAR, Major League Soccer, and dozens of college sports programs. The company also provides official caps for the NBA 2K League teams. Sponsoring the Madden Challenge Series provides an ideal opportunity to promote its existing NFL team caps while furthering its footprint in the esports community.
“With New Era’s authenticity as the official cap of NFL sidelines, and New Era caps being worn day in and day out by the top athletes in the word, it was a seamless integration to bring our product to the highest level of athletes in competition for Madden NFL 19,” said Austin LaBoda, digital media specialist for New Era Cap. “Competitive gaming draws a hyper-engaged group of fans and provides us with a new way to showcase our product, reaching new audiences, and being a favorite brand for consumers to wear will always be a goal of New Era.”
Players will don the official NFL caps while playing, and New Era’s caps will also be seen elsewhere within the broadcasts. Additionally, the league winner will receive a specialized “Champions” cap created for the occasion, which LaBoda said is “similar to how NFL athletes immediately receive their Super Bowl Champions New Era cap upon winning the Lombardi Trophy.” He added that the overlap between traditional sports and esports sponsorship is an increasingly significant part of the company’s marketing and branding.
“Not only have we seen the crossover between esports fans, football viewers, and New Era fans, but we are entering a time period where our brand ambassadors are being seen as major players in the esports space as well,” he said. “A perfect example of this would be New Era brand ambassador Juju Smith-Schuster, who is often featured in our creative messaging for being a great NFL athlete on the field—but now is a recognizable face to esports consumers with his interest level in competitive gaming, which is something special for all audiences and our brand.”
Mars, Incorporated’s Snickers brand has been very active in esports so far, sponsoring the Rocket League Championship Series and ELEAGUE, as well as FlyQu