Electronic Arts, the publisher behind the NFL's official Madden video game series, has a problem:
Today, the two finalists for the Madden NFL 12 cover were revealed. It couldn't have turned out worse for EA. Forget being between a rock and a hard place; EA Sports is trapped between a knife and a gun fight: relative unknown Peyton Hillis of the perennially awful Cleveland Browns, or convicted dog-killing pariah and ex-convict Michael Vick. Either EA has to market a game featuring a player the average person cares little about, or they're hit with animal rights activist protests for a highly controversial cover boy.
IGN's Hilary Goldstein has some words of wisdom for EA:
EA made a fatal error in preparation of the Madden cover vote. The person voted to be on the cover only hurts or helps EA. It doesn't impact a Madden fan's sponsorship opportunities. It doesn't affect a gamer's promotion plans. No one voting stops and thinks, "Man, I better not let Vick win or EA will have a tough time doing a media tour." Don't think for a moment that EA ever would willingly put Peyton Hillis or Mike Vick on the cover of Madden. They expected the voters to do the right thing for EA. That's not how popularity contests work.
The lesson here: never, ever, give people the option to affect your product unless it's something you can live with. The 32 players in the Madden voting bracket needed to be 32 players EA would gladly have on the cover. Because, as we can see with the final round in this contest, online voters aren't predictable. Never assume they have the same priorities or business sensibilities of a publicly traded corporation. The public loses nothing by turning on EA and biting them in the ass.
Me, I'm trying to decide what the worst part of this story is: that Vick's still part of the NFL, that EA included Vick in the poll, or that enough sports fans still like Vick enough to make him a finalist?