For the first time in the game’s history, this year fans would decide who would grace the cover of EA Sports’ Madden NFL 12 .With voting going on for 5 rounds (finals included) players were matched up along side current and rising NFL stars. Among them were two Cinderella stories. On one hand you have, Peyton Hillis, an underrated running back from the Cleveland Browns. On the other you hand the now humbled and reformed Michael Vick, who after officially paying his debt to society is still under a constant microscope.
In 2008, the Obama election was known as the Facebook election. In 2011 the same now holds true for the cover of Madden NFL 12, which not only made history for the franchise but at the same time helped EA Sports dodge a potential public relations bullet as well. Hillis would pull away with the victory in the end with 66 percent of the vote.
At this point we all know Michael Vick’s story. But we also know the new Michael Vick story as well. The one where following his incarceration he was picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles as a role-player. Through hard work and dedication, and the fact that his talent wasn’t affected by his year out of the sport, he was able to not only earn a starting quarterback position but also bring the Eagles back to the playoffs in the 2010 NFL season.
People close to the sport, writers and fans alike, said that the only way Vick would be socially exonerated would be through a Super Bowl win, but the same probably wouldn’t hold true for those outside of the sport. Forget about the animal rights groups and advocates. Sure you would have the likes of PETA who would be all over this, and in their typical extremist fashion they would have probably burned copies of the game at launch. But how about the Bill Oreilly’s of the world? They say that there’s no such thing as bad PR and to some degree this does hold true, however this is the type of situation that EA does not want to be tied to and thanks to social media they wont have to.
“What this guy did through social media was incredible,” said EA Sports ratings czar Donny Moore, “he had the full support from the Browns through Facebook and other social outlets.”
One major reason why I think that it was important to dodge this bullet is because of what the Madden franchise means to Electronic Arts the company. Sure, Fifa is still their international bread and butter, however, here in the states Madden is one of the best selling video games with an annual release. Not just for a sports title but just video games in general. If you’re going for shock and controversy you don’t do it with your golden goose that pays the bills year after year.
EA Sports was among the only companies besides Nike to stick by professional golfer Tiger Woods after his “indiscretions” as he remained the cover athlete for anything and everything PGA related released by the publisher. However there is a distinct difference between what Vick was charged with and what Woods was humiliated for, not just in the eyes of the law but in the eyes of the public. Also, Woods is arguably the face of the PGA whether you like it or not. He’s the “Jordan” of the league and while he’s lost a few role-model points along the way, the fact of the matter is,when it’s all said and done he won’t be remembered for indiscretions. He’ll be remembered for uplifting the entire sport to new heights.
“Michael Vick is probably the best man in the NFL” is what a very humble Peyton Hillis said when I asked him about the embattled QB following his Madden 12 photo shoot in Times Square. With the support of the Browns organization, there was a full on social media assault going on every single week of the tournament. Before you knew it, week after week, Hillis would knock off the likes of Ray Rice and even Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rogers. He is now the face of Madden NFL 12 and not because EA rigged it but because of Facebook, he earned it.
You can see that interview with Peyton Hillis at the Madden NFL 12 kickoff event below.