G4 Tackles 'Madden’

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G4TechTV said it expects 16,000 people to compete in its 32-city “Madden Challenge” video game tour, which kicked off over the weekend in Minneapolis.

The tour, timed for the release last week of EA Sports’ Madden NFL 2005 football game, will feature kiosks from local cable operators at each venue, with the MSOs hoping to sell new services such as HDTV and video on demand to the young adults vying for video game laurels.

“I think we’re all trying to reach the same guy — EA, our cable partners and us — that’s young men,” said G4TechTV senior vice president of distribution and sales Dale Hopkins.

G4TechTV has created at least three programs dedicated to the game, backed by famed Oakland Raiders coach and Monday Night Football analyst John Madden. It’s looking to tap into the multibillion dollar sports video game market. Last year’s Madden 2004 was the best selling sports video game, and EA has sold 37 million copies of the game since it debuted in 1989.

Madden 2005 faces competition from ESPN, which began selling its ESPN NFL 2K5 game for Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation 2 last month. While G4 has mentioned the ESPN game during some of its shows, don’t expect to see the sports giant’s entry being pitted against EA’s flagship game during any of the network’s programming.

“Everything they do in terms of [Madden 2005] has to be approved by us in terms of usage, so we work with them to make sure it’s leveraging our products in a in a way that makes sense,” said EA director of promotions Alison Ross.

While EA is a major G4TechTV advertiser, the game company doesn’t pay G4 anything to create programs such as the Madden Challenge Preview Show, the Madden Challenge Mid-Tour Update and the Madden Challenge Finals, which cover the action from the 32-city tour, G4TechTV and EA executives said.

“They’re not paying us to do this tour specifically, but it’s something we want to do,” Hopkins said. “It’s perfect for our affiliates — it’s our biggest affiliate event of the year.”

The Madden Challenge tour will hit venues in 31 cities that feature National Football League franchises, plus Los Angeles, which doesn’t have a National Football League team. The finals will be held in Las Vegas on Dec. 11.

Several operators will get advertising signage and kiosks at the local competition sites, including G4TechTV parent Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable, Adelphia Communications Corp. and Cox Communications Inc.

The MSOs must run several hundred cross-channel spots in order to participate in the promotion, depending upon the system size.