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EA.com Scores Licensing Deal with the NFL

Less than two weeks before The Game known as the Super Bowl, EA.com Thursday scored on a licensing agreement with the National Football League.

EA.com, the online entertainment destination and division of Electronic Arts, will have rights to use NFL teams, uniforms, and logos in a variety of exclusive online games. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

EA.com and NFL.com game sites will be co-branded to provide links to one another's online destinations. The NFL.com's visitors will be able to jump to football-related games on EA.com's NFL Games Channel, as well as on the AOL, CompuServe, Netscape and ICQ games destinations. In turn, EA.com visitors are a click away from NFL.com.

EA.com visitors and visitors to the America Online games destinations can tap into the site and find a variety of NFL-licensed games with new titles to be added later. Popular titles include "Running Back Challenge," "Madden NFL 2001" and "Front Office Football 2001," which was launched Thursday as a football management simulation game for "hard-core pigskin fans," according to Electronic Arts.

Also, EA.com's NFL-branded content will be showcased at EA SPORTS' 7th Annual Madden Bowl, a pre-Super Bowl football video game tournament featuring NFL super stars and Hollywood celebrities. The media-only event will be held on Jan. 25 in Tampa, Florida.

The AOL and EA.com online game destinations went live in October 2000 under a strategic agreement struck between Electronic Arts and AOL Time Warner (then simply America Online) in November 1999. The relationship between them has created a leading online gaming community and provides several services, including the ability to download and play games, find online opponents, obtain game-related information and join chat rooms to discuss games.

While the NFL will benefit by bringing more rabid, game-playing fans into its already prodigious fold, EA.com is a big winner because it has managed to partner with a pro sports league in good standing with fans because, unlike its Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association counterparts, it has remained unsullied by strike-shortened seasons and salary-cap distractions in recent years.

Indeed, EA.com's partnership comes at a time when the online gaming space is growing in poplarity, yet EA.com and Sandbox.com are perhaps the closest competitors currently offering sports gaming on the Web.

Tom Nichols, director of marketing at EA.com's sports arena, told InternetNews.com via e-mail Thursday that there are very few sites that offer the types of gamettes that are found on the EA Sports Arena on EA.com.

"During its season, NFL.com is one of the most heavily visited league sites, so we are happy to partner with them. This deal takes us even further ahead of our competition," Nichols wrote.