The Rams' return to Los Angeles, approved by the NFL last night, means EA Sports developers have a short time to get an entirely new stadium into the next edition of Madden NFL. If the past is any guide, they should be able to pull it off, but there could be complications.
The Rams will play next year in L.A. while the franchise awaits the construction of a proposed stadium. The San Diego Chargers have the option to join them in the city. Right now, all signs point to the franchises playing in the Los Angeles Coliseum, which would once again be the oldest and largest facility in the NFL.
That stadium was rendered in the NCAA Football series that EA Sports canceled in 2013, and even though that series never launched on current console hardware, one of its old venues still made it into the past three editions of Madden. That would be TCF Bank Stadium, the home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and where the Minnesota Vikings have played since 2014 while waiting on the construction of a new stadium that will open next season.
In video games, a new stadium takes months to render from scratch, even if artists are working with full cooperation of the team, have access to its designs and visit it with scanning equipment or to take photographs. An existing model from a generation-old game can be more easily polished up for inclusion.
That's provided that EA Sports has the rights to use it. Buildings, like athletes, have likenesses, too, and the rights to use them in something like a video game is controlled by their ownership. If those owners are not NFL teams, that requires a separate deal. Soldier Field, owned by the city of Chicago, was a famous holdout from Madden for years, finally joining the series for Madden NFL 12. The video game Bears had played in a generic stadium before that.
Even on a last-minute basis, licensing should not present too much of a problem given EA Sports' long-standing relationships. (The L.A. Coliseum is managed by the University of Southern California.)
But a video game that prides itself on authenticity in the tiniest of details could be in a real jam-up if two NFL teams head to Los Angeles and the Coliseum, which dates to 1932, is unable to accommodate them both.
Yes, the L.A. area also has the Rose Bowl, which appeared in the NCAA Football series as well. But over the summer that stadium's governing board voted unanimously against any short-term rental to an NFL team moving to Los Angeles. Some have mentioned the StubHub Center, home of the L.A. Galaxy of Major League Soccer, but its 27,000 seat capacity is almost certainly unacceptable to the NFL, which has a hard 50,000 seat minimum.
That leaves Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium, the latter of which now has a capacity under 46,000. They are, as their names indicate, baseball facilities, and EA Sports has not published a Major League Baseball game since 2005, on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Even if it could get licensing it's likely these venues would have to be built all over again for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
After the LA Coliseum, the options are baseball stadiums. EA hasn't rendered those in a decade.
Bottom line, if the Rams or Chargers next year play somewhere other than the L.A. Coliseum, it will likely be represented by a generic stadium in Madden NFL until a new facility is built. Rams owner Stan Kroenke is pushing a $1.9 billion proposal for a stadium in Inglewood, the Lakers' old home. There was also a proposal for a stadium in Carson that would accommodate the Chargers and Oakland Raiders, but the NFL's vote yesterday giving primacy in Los Angeles to the Rams puts that in limbo. The Raiders had filed for relocation for the 2016 season but can only move to L.A. if the Chargers decline to do so.
In either case, neither new stadium exists, and even with access to paper designs, EA Sports would not put artists to work rendering them for the game until their occupancy is confirmed. Once those plans are set the facilities will probably debut in the game before they open in real life. Levi's Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers, was added to Madden NFL 25 one year before the 49ers moved there. Likewise U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings' new home, is in Madden NFL 16, and is used for that team when the career mode advances to the 2016-2017 season.
Other changes will be necessary to accommodate the Rams' move (and potentially another team's) such as revising announcers' dialogue to recognize the new team names, and perhaps to comment on the NFL's return to Los Angeles. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms record new dialogue for Madden annually, typically after the end of the NFL season, so this shouldn't be a problem, even if the Chargers and Raiders sort out their situations at the very last minute.
Before publishing this story Polygon reached out to EA Sports to inquire about its plans to accommodate the Los Angeles Rams in Madden NFL 17, which should launch around the end of August this year. We'll update this post with any comment they make on their plans or contingencies for the move.