EA/ESPN ‘Simulated Season’ & Then NHL ‘Start Your Season’

With no real hockey to watch, Electronic Arts (along with partner ESPN) urged fans to turn to virtual hockey.


EA Sports leveraged the NHL lockout right from the September launch of its official NHL 13 game (the only game officially licensed by the NHL and the NHL Players Association) up until the dispute was settled via a faux season. The games maker supported both fans (and arguably the league) by running a ‘Simulated Season’ through NHL 13 and a set of supporting media and social sites.


Beginning the very same week that the NHL was scheduled to start its 2012-2013 season, EA developed a weekly series of simulations hosted and promoted by ESPN.com that aimed to predict and reflect how the season might transpire.



Together EA and ESPN saw the NHL lockout as a real opportunity to promote their simulations as answers to fan-centred populism: “EA Sports brings you the NHL games, stats and standings that you were supposed to see.”


The simulated action running in tandem with media partner ESPN prominently featured the broadcaster’s branding. It also used similar style and approach to the sports media giant’s highlight programs: with simulations combining slow motion replays and upbeat narration as they two organisations combined to bring fans the key event and thrilling moments from the virtual season (complete with the week’s top performances, box scores for each game, headline news and even injury reports.


Some newspaper journalists even covered the virtual season, providing content for copy other than that which covered the dry side of league and player negotiations. For example, Pat Hickey of The Montreal Gazette covered the virtual season for the Montreal Canadiens just as he would the real one and in some weeks one his simulated game write ups was reportedly the most-read sports story on the paper’s website.



These weren’t EA Sports and ESPN’s first hockey simulations as they had previously combined on the 2011 and 2012 Stanley Cups.


In fact ESPN.com also hosts weekly Madden NFL 13 simulations of EA Sports’ National Football League’s games.


The partnership between EA and ESPN dates back to 2005 when the games brand signed a $850m 15-year advertising partnership with gave it the exclusive right to use the ESPN brand in games. Since that deal the two companies have allied to build and promote one another’s brands and extend their respective reach and share.


When the lockout finally came to an end, EA was the first NHL partner to roll out a ‘Hockey Is Back: Start Your Season’ campaign. Led by a commercial and online video and backed by heavy use of the hashtag #startyourseason, the ad drives excitement for the return of real hockey while simultaneously promotes its own NHL 13 product.





Some may feel that Simulated Season was a vital therapeutic diversion, while others might dismiss it as more of a desperate blow-up doll diversion.


But virtual hockey certainly gives the fans a chance to experience NHL ice action without the high cost of ticket prices, flat beer and bad food inside so many NHL arenas.


The fans jumped at the chance and the initial bottom line benefits were clear to see.


First week sales of EA Sports NHL 13 game rose 9% to 484,000 units. Fans also spent more virtual time with the sport, playing more than 3.7 million online games (the equivalent of over 350 games a minute) and created just under 50,000 of their own alternate versions of the NHL through the new GM Connected feature in NHL 13.


They have also seen more action in video game hockey than they would have with real hockey. Players scored almost five million goals in the first week, compared to the 244 goals slapped in during the first week of the real 2011-2012 NHL regular season.




YouTube Trailer



YouTube Campaign:



EA NHL 13 Website






EA Sports ESPN Simulation – Weeek 1 YouTube



EA NHL 13 Launch Video YouTube



Leave a comment


Featured Showcases

Leave a comment