When Customer Interaction Goes Wrong: Madden NFL Cover Contest

This doesn’t end well.

Here’s the scenario. The most successful sports video game of all time, Madden NFL, held a challenge this year to determine which player would be bestowed with the honor of being on its cover. So they held an online voting tournament where the public could decide, and one player from each of the 32 teams was chosen. Then, customer interaction was called upon, thousands of votes were cast, blood and tears were shed, and at the end of the day only two were left standing. Going into the finals, the match-up was (drum roll, please): Peyton Hillis vs. Michael Vick!

Otherwise known as “Who the hell is that?” vs. “Man, I hate that guy.”

I’m pretty sure the marketing team at EA Sports, the makers of Madden, all did simultaneous forehead smacks when these results came in. How did this go so wrong? There were players like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson, and Julius Peppers in the running, who are all huge stars and (likely) future Hall of Famers. Well, it started when Peyton Hillis’ team, the Cleveland Browns, ran an actual marketing campaign for its (kind of) star player to win the Madden cover challenge. The campaign must have been pretty powerful, because it worked: big time. Hillis even beat the reigning Super Bowl MVP (who shall go nameless around Chicago).

And I have absolutely no idea how Michael Vick got this far. No further comment needed. But in a delicious coincidence, the Cleveland Browns fan section in their stadium is called the “Dawg Pound.”

Come on, EA Sports. Why fix what isn't broken?

Come on, EA Sports. Why fix what isn't broken?

So, what could EA Sports have done differently? For starters, Madden NFL is already one of the most successful games of all time. They didn’t NEED this gimmick. No one would have complained if Peyton Manning was on the cover. I understand the feeling of wanting to do something interesting for fans by encouraging customer interaction, but why fix what isn’t broken?

Second, they should have NEVER put any player in the challenge that they wouldn’t have been proud to put on its cover. But they did, and they’ll pay the price. The sales of the annual Tiger Woods game dropped dramatically after his…um…indiscretions, so who knows what effect this will have on Madden’s sales?

By the time this is posted, a winner will have been declared. But it really doesn’t matter. The story is told, and either ending is an unhappy one for EA Sports. At this point, I don’t think they even care who wins. And they only have themselves to blame…

Do you agree that EA Sports should have taken a different approach with this competition? What else could they have done to involve their customers? Do you have any other examples of customer interaction gone wrong?

Editor’s Note: Peyton Hillis was declared the winner for this contest during the first week of May. You can check out their official site for more details!


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  1. LGroce

    Jeff, I hate to disagree with you, but I think it was awesome what EA Sports did. I’m not a huge Madden player, but have owned a few of the games over the years. I don’t think it matters what so ever who is on the cover because the game is that popular.
    The two players that made the finals both had phenomenal seasons as well. Michael Vick had an amazing season and is by far the most exciting player to watch in the entire league. He may not have the best relationship with the public, however he not only will sell tickets but sell video games. Peyton Hillis is just a monster of a man who came out of nowhere and is a great success story. His size and strength at the running back position is unmatched. I didn’t personally take part in the voting, but I couldn’t be happier with the selection.

    • JPorretto

      I don’t disagree with your assessment of the players abilities (Well I do a little, Hillis had almost as many fumbles as touchdowns and was only the 11th leading rusher in the NFL). But the fact is that hardly anyone outside of sports fanatics like us even know of Hillis, and a LOT of people just out right HATE Vick. Neither is close to an ideal cover athlete.

    • Jana Quinn

      “He may not have the best relationship with the public” is a pretty diplomatic way of saying that it’s public knowledge he hung and drowned dogs. It’s not like the guy just bet on some strays and let nature take it course; Vick is a violent killer. EA certainly has no control over who is allowed to play in the NFL, but they can sure as hell drop any association with Michael Vick just like his sponsors did when he was indicted.

      ESPECIALLY considering his record this season, EA should have ancitipated his popularity among fans (who were ignorant of the details or didn’t care about Vick’s crimes) and had some kind of prescreening put in place.

      This could have been a disaster for EA, who would have had only two options if Vick were selected:
      -put Vick on the cover and risk animal rights groups flipping out
      -not put Vick on the cover and risk alienating fans who thought they were participating in a legitimate contest

      I’m certainly not saying that putting Vick on the cover of a Madden game is the same thing as murdering puppies, but there is an implicit support behind the “face” of a product that I’m sure EA would not want to be associated with.

  2. Joseph Giorgi

    Great post, and great point too! EA Sports only have themselves to blame for this predicament. I had no idea that they called on the fans to vote on a player for the cover. Have they done this in years prior? …Because it sounds like they sure as heck won’t be doing it again.

    • JPorretto

      No they haven’t done it before. I agree, I think this will go the way of the do-do bird…

  3. Jill Tooley

    Otherwise known as “Who the hell is that?” vs. “Man, I hate that guy.”

    Classic. Also, exactly what I was thinking when I read that!

    It sounds like EA had a great idea, but I can’t explain the results. There must have been some hidden agenda to rig the finalists. I mean, how could Michael Vick possibly make it as far as he did? I don’t know anything about sports, but I do know that people don’t seem to like him very much (myself included). It seems weird that he would beat out some of these future Hall of Famers! It was generous of EA to do something like this, but I’ll bet they were definitely smacking their heads in unison when the results came in…

  4. Dog Lover 101

    These types of contests are all about the hype.

    Peyton Hillis is to Madden what Sangia was to American Idol. A person voted by fans only to insult and cause harm to the EA Sports/Madden Franchise brand – not an actual representation of fan sentiment.

    Considering EVERY Madden game is pretty much the SAME game year after year, just with different players and stats, I can see why EA went down this road, but none the less, I think a quality product, some innovation (bring back NFL Blitz!), and other social elements would have done them more good.

    If Michael Vick would have won the contest I would have run out and burnt and broken every copy of Madden I could get my grubby hands on. That guy shouldn’t be allowed to play in the NFL let alone grace the cover of Madden.

  5. Amanda Sneed

    Awesome post Jeff!

    I agree, they really got themselves into a pickle with this one. I like that they gave fans lots of players to choose from, and even though they didn’t pick the “expected to win” players, that’s what a vote is all about. Whoever gets the most, no matter the reason for the votes, wins. That’s why I can never understand why some people get upset when the best looking or most charming contestants on American Idol get farther than the contestant with perfect pitch, etc. It’s a vote. And people can cast their vote for whatever reason they like, it’s the people’s choice.

    So Madden, well done. You got people to vote! 😉

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