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NHL Impasse Hurts Hockey-Game Sales

10 Feb, 2005 By: David Ward

The labor impasse between National Hockey League (NHL) players and owners that has jeopardized the 2004-2005 season is affecting sports game publishers and retailers as well.

“[Hockey-game sales are] down from last year,” said Trudy Muller, spokesperson for Electronic Arts, whose EA Sports makes NHL 2005. She noted, though, “It's always been a smaller category compared with football or basketball.”

Randy Webster, game buyer for the Rogers Video chain in Canada, didn't expect to see a drop.

“We had hoped that maybe people would be looking for a hockey fix, and so video games would be a way to do it,” Webster said. “But because there's just so much animosity toward players and owners, the people are really turned off on hockey. This year, out of the gate it was slow, and turns dropped off quite quickly. We had a tough time selling off our used product. We had to mark it down pretty quickly.”

Midway Games, makers of the “NHL Hitz” games series for consoles, did not even to bring out a version for this season. A company spokesman said that awareness of a probable lengthy lockout certainly played a role in that decision.

The only game that seems to be bucking the tide is the ESPN-licensed NHL 2K5 from Take 2 Interactive subsidiary 2K Sports.

“In Canada, sales have been slow,” said 2K Sports' Matt Atwood.

“But in the United States, we've had record numbers. We're running considerably higher than last year,” he said.

But much of that improved sales performance, which has enabled 2K Sports to end EA Sports' dominance in at least one of the major sports categories, is no doubt tied to the company's decision to price all its sports games at $19.99, instead of the traditional $39 to $49 range for most games.

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