While the popular misconception is that EA walked up to the NFL, wrote a check, and took the exclusive license home with them, the truth is that the NFL decided that they wanted to go exclusive, took bids from publishers, and went with the highest bidder. This new IGN article about Sony San Diego further corroborates that scenario when he revealed that Sony was also in the running for the license, but ultimately couldn't match the sum that EA put up for it:
I just wanted to share this bit of news with you guys since some people still believe that EA forced exclusivity from the NFL.
As Phillips explained, Sony San Diego became laser-focused on sports when EA flipped the script on all of its competitors. "In 2004, the NFL and the NFL Players Association decided that, like with all the categories, videogames should be exclusive, and Electronic Arts managed to lock that up. And that kind of changed the sports landscape forever within videogames."
Phillips described an internal situation fraught with uncertainty. The deal between EA and the NFL caused Sony San Diego to undergo "significant restructuring" following a time when Sony was actually trying to pursue the NFL license on its own. "We pursued [NFL exclusivity] actively," Phillips admitted, ultimately concluding that "the rumored price tag that EA allegedly ended up paying is something that just boggles my mind."
We pursued [NFL exclusivity] actively...Strangely, even in pursuit of the NFL license for Sony, Phillips felt that this sort of exclusivity "was a huge disservice to the end user," stressing that "competition drives innovation." He continued: "We felt like going the exclusive route as the NFL did was going to really hinder innovation, and we're just not fans of removing and restricting choice for the end user."
Years removed from EA's capture of NFL exclusivity, Phillips freely discussed the Madden franchise that has benefitted so much from a complete lack of competition. Yet, he defended his rival. "There's been a lot of criticism from consumers that they feel like they're not getting the value and they're not seeing the innovation [in Madden]. Now, in fairness to EA, we get some of that criticism on The Show as well."