Rob Gronkowski is being immortalized in digital form, and bringing his world-class spike and dance moves to a remote controller near you.
Electronic Arts revealed that the game-changing New England Patriots tight end will be the cover athlete for Madden 17 during a special segment on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Thursday.
“My rookie year [in 2010], it was just an honor to be in the game, just using yourself as a player, throwing yourself the ball every single time you can at home, just playing the game,” Gronkowski told SportsCenter. “Now it’s a dream come true, going into my seventh season and being on the cover. … When I first found out, I was blessed. It was a surreal moment.”
The next order of business for EA—and one that stars and their egos are certainly peculiar about—is the release of the positional player ratings before the game hits store shelves on August 23. Last year Gronkowski started the season at a 99 overall rating, the best at his position.
Finding out exactly what new gameplay and features will be bestowed upon fervent football fans doesn’t hurt either. Improvements to all three phases of the game in offense, defense and special teams were made for the forthcoming release, as detailed by EA.
In the meantime, EA Access members can play Madden 17 before the release as part of a Play First Trial, only on Xbox One. And if you already can’t wait to play with the franchise savior your favorite team drafted this year, the first-round picks of the 2016 NFL Draft—sorry Patriots—are available in Madden 16 Ultimate Team.
For the first time since Madden 2010, EA opted to choose the cover art internally rather than putting it in the hands of fans through a vote. In 2013, the vote for Madden 25 commenced with a 64-player bracket that would make March Madness jealous. It was later reduced to 16 players in 2014, and four in 2015 before being wiped away altogether this year.
Gronkowski takes the reins from Madden 16 cover man Odell Beckham Jr. Gronk was runner-up last year to the New York Giants wide receiver.
Earlier in the day, Gronkowski also scored the cover of GQ Magazine, where the affable, life-of-the-party bro can be seen hoisting model Hailey Clauson on his shoulders and signaling the start of summer in the buff. “It’s been a great day,” the tight end said.
The 27-year-old is a marketing machine. Last year, he signed a multi-year endorsement deal with Monster. His likeness is already featured in coolers across America. In February, the SS Gronk hit the seas for a three-day voyage as part of a promotion dubbed as “Gronk’s Party Ship.” Yes, all 6-feet, 6-inches of the 265-pound beast was present—and in full party spirit.
In his 2015 book “It’s Good to be Gronk,” the all-world tight end said he hasn’t spent a penny of his contract earnings and strictly lives off the endorsement money he’s made from the likes of Nike, Dunkin’ Donuts, SMS Audio, DraftKings and BodyArmor SuperDrink.
A late-season knee injury in 2015 didn’t stop Gronk from tallying 1,176 yards and 11 touchdowns en route to All-Pro honors for the third time in his career.
Gronkowski joins a revered list of luminaries like Brett Favre and Barry Sanders to grace the game’s cover. He’s the first tight end and Patriots player to do it, too.
John Madden, the Hall of Fame Raiders-coach-turned-broadcaster, was featured on the cover until San Francisco 49ers running back Garrison Hearst became the first player to grace the front flap with Madden 99. Shortly after, the Niners running back suffered a career-cutting injury that kicked off a string of stars who experienced shortcomings either on-or-off the field. The series of events gave birth to the “Madden curse,” a myth whose wrath has been mostly tamed in recent years.
Gronkowski commented on the curse during his SportsCenter appearance. “It’s definitely reversed itself from back in the day. You have to look at the players that were on it recently. You have Odell, who had an unbelievable year last year. You have Richard Sherman, who went to the Pro Bowl the year he was on it. Calvin Johnson, who broke the receiving record when he was on the cover. It’s the present now. It’s the future of the cover. I feel like I’ve already gone through all my injuries at that time, so I feel like I’m good. I’m blessed right now to be on it. I feel like everything is going to go smoothly.”
The long-running professional football series first launched on Apple II computers in 1988 and has since earned a cult following from die-hards to become one of the top-selling games of all time—most notably after 2004 when EA signed an exclusive NFL video game contract.
The game enjoyed mainstream success with Madden Nation, a reality TV show that debuted on ESPN in 2005 and dived into the lives of top gamers. Last year, NFL Media teamed up with EA and Twitch to introduce “Madden NFL Live,” a weekly digital series covering news, tips and tricks.
In recent years, EA has changed the landscape of digital games on console by monetizing Madden through virtual currencies for microtransactions that account for more than a quarter of the game’s revenue.
Madden 16 earned $76 million in revenue and Madden 15 pulled $73 million, respectively, according to SuperData Research. It was the ninth and tenth best-selling digital console games of 2015. EA had a net revenue of $4.5 billion in 2015.
The Redwood City, California-based publisher has also added value to licensed content on mobile through Madden NFL Mobile, a top-ten grossing app on Android and iOS. In an earnings report released earlier this week, EA indicated that Madden NFL Mobile’s monthly active players grew 30 percent in Q4 over the same quarter last year. In the same earnings call, EA CEO Andrew Wilson said their NFL, NHL and FIFA game franchises are each “taking a major leap forward in personalization, immersion and competition.”
Time will tell how the game will mature. But for now let’s live in the moment and enjoy the summer of Gronk.
Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan