And then there were two men standing.
EA Sports announced yesterday that the cover vote for NCAA Football 14 had officially been trimmed down to two players, Michigan's Denard Robinson and Texas A&M's Ryan Swope. Robinson always appeared to be one of the favorites for the cover despite his lack of production under center, but A&M's Swope is proving that the underdog still has plenty of bite.
The casual college football fan will be forgiven if you are still left wondering just exactly who Swope is. After all, he is hardly a household name. Swope is currently ranked 22nd overall among wide receivers by National Football Post with a draft grade suggesting a potential fourth-round draft pick selection. Our friends over at Optimum Scouting tend to feel similarly. Swope had a solid season for the Aggies but his 913 receiving yards and eight touchdowns easily gets lost in the shuffle (eighth in the SEC in receiving yards), especially when Johnny Manziel was busy setting the football world on fire and offensive tackle Luke Joeckel was being heralded as a worthy number one overall pick.
But here he is, looking to represent Texas A&M on the cover of the NCAA Football franchise for the first time in school history. ESPN's sports media reporter Darren Rovell suggested he wanted to see if Swope appearing on the cover of the game would yield any difference in copies of the game sold.
Hoping NCAA Football game has Ryan Swope on the cover. Would be a good experiment on if bad cover athlete hurts sales.
— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) February 26, 2013
The answer, of course, is no. Sure, there may be a few more copies sold in and around College Station, Texas but I would take an educated guess that the nationwide sales of the game would not take any more of a hit for having Swope on the cover as it would for having any other player.
Like the Madden NFL franchise, albeit on a slightly smaller scale, the NCAA Football franchise has reached a point where the same product can receive a few tweaks and graphic enhancements form year to year and be sold to the same audience. The fans who purchase the NCAA Football title are not going to refrain from buying the game based on who is on the cover. They will buy it to play against their friends, classmates and others around the world through the wonders of network gaming. It does not matter to these people if Denard Robinson or Ryan Swope or Kenjon Barner or Lee Corso is on the cover.
Last year NCAA Football 13 featured Baylor's Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III on the cover. We all know RG3 has become a clear superstar after one year in the NFL. His rise to fame brought attention to Baylor, of all football programs, in a season once again dominated by the SEC. But sales were relatively sluggish with RG3 on the cover. I would suggest this is because to the NCAA Football audience there was not enough reason to pick up the newest version of the game after shelling out money for NCAA Football 12 (oh, and NCAA Football 13 did not even have all of the teams). But was it because Griffin III came from Baylor, a program that has always been in the shadows of larger programs in their own conference, no matter the conference?
Does Rovell have a point? The anecdotal evidence, last season aside, may back his argument.
Last summer gaming website Pasta Padre took a look at the sales numbers of the franchise. NCAA Football 11 had opening sales eight percent higher than NCAA Football 10. NCAA Football 10 had a different cover athlete depending on the port but NCAA Football 11 had Tim Tebow on the cover. Featuring Tebow on the cover was a no brainer it seemed, and perhaps sales were boosted by his appearance slightly. NCAA Football 12 featured Alabama's Mark Ingram on the cover, and once again opening sales for the game skyrocketed, jumping to 15 percent higher than the NCAA Football 11 sales figures. Did having Heisman Trophy winners from Florida and Alabama help boost the sales? If so, what was NCAA Football 13's excuse, with not one but two Heisman winners?
Then there is my own empirical data.
I have been a long time supporter of the NCAA Football franchise. I do not buy the game every season as some might. Instead I may pick up a copy or two during a particular console's lifespan. I have a copy of NCAA Football 2004 for the GameCube (don't laugh) within an arm's reach from my desk and my Road to Glory in NCAA Football 12 has resulted in quarterback play the Texas Longhorns could only dream of having the last couple of seasons. Over the years I have purchased seven different versions of the game, and not one time did I take in to consideration the cover athlete appearing on the cover.
When it comes to video games there is a certain level of marketing needed to produce a strong consumer base. Any EarthBound fan may be able to tell you that. EA Sports has been fortunate to be able to build up a loyal consumer base as well as branch out to the more casual football fans. Their brand commands a certain level of consumer respect, regardless of how you feel about their business practices. But when it comes to sports games in particular, gamers need a reason to hand over $60 for a game year after year. Road to Glory was a terrific adaption of a sound philosophy. The Heisman Challenge failed to take things to the next level. What NCAA Football 14 offers or does not offer will have much more to say about the value of the game to consumers than the cover.
Will you buy or not buy NCAA Football 14 based on who the cover athlete is.