Rivalry CEO: Josh Allen On Madden Cover Won’t Move Esports Betting Needle

Written By C.J. Pierre on June 16, 2023
Josh Allen Madden 24 cover

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen has been named the cover athlete of Madden 24. He will be the first player from Ontario’s most popular NFL team to grace to cover.

Madden is one of North America’s most talked about video games, particularly among pro athletes. However, the game is not at the top of the list when it comes to esports and esports betting.

Traditionally, the NFL is the most popular for North American sports bettors. Football was the third most popular sport to be on at Ontario sportsbooks. With Allen being on the cover and the Bills positioned as a Super Bowl contender, could the QB’s growing popularity impact Madden’s place in the esports betting hierarchy?

Rivalry CEO says sports games and esports aren’t as connected as some may think

Unfortunately for Madden, the popular football game isn’t very high on the esports totem pole.

Steven Salz, co-founder and CEO of Toronto-based esports betting company Rivalry, told PlayCanada that while the appearance of Allen on the game’s cover is exciting, it isn’t something that will push Madden to new heights in Ontario esports world. That also means it won’t make a dent in the esports betting market.

“The people that watch the NFL are the people that play Madden. The people that watch the NBA are the people that play [NBA] 2K,” said Salz. “They don’t want to watch competitive virtual versions of the real sport.”

Salz: In the esports world, football is definitely not king

Salz also said that there is a competitive circuit for games like Madden. However, they are not at the same level as circuits for games like League of Legends or “Counter Strike, two of the biggest games Rivalry customers bet on. Salz says a slow ‘day’ for League of Legends betting on Rivalry could eclipse the entirety of wagers placed on Madden esports betting.

“There is an NBA 2K league and competitive Madden,” said Salz. “But if you were to compare it to the viewership and interest and the total economy built around our three biggest games, it would be measured around 0.001%.”

However, Salz added that there is potential for Madden to impact sports betting. While the game and Allen’s appearance on the cover won’t significantly impact Ontario’s esports betting market, he did say that traditional Canadian sports betting sites can take advantage.

“If I was a traditional sportsbook trying to bring in a gaming demographic into NFL betting, I would look at Madden as an opportunity,” said Salz. “If I wanted to get a younger demo interested in sports betting or in my product generally, Madden as an entry point is probably interesting.”

Esports betting’s popularity in Ontario on the rise

Rivalry recently launched its esports wagering mobile app in Ontario. The app touts having the region’s largest selection of esports for betting. Their catalog includes popular games like League of Legends, Valorant and Counter-Strike, as well as wagering on mobile titles like Call of Duty: Mobile and Free Fire.

“Mobile betting is a significant addition for our Ontario operations and core audience of Millennial and Gen Z consumers that prefer the flexibility of betting on their phones,” said Steven Salz, Rivalry’s co-founder and CEO. “Launching a mobile app adds an important layer of accessibility to our product, increasing our addressable market in Ontario, and allowing us to bring esports betting to more customers in the region and ultimately grow the category.”

The news comes as esports betting continues to grow in Ontario. Rivalry is reporting a 15% average month-over-month growth rate in the region since acquiring its license in April 2022. The company expects its mobile app to increase player acquisition and engagement among Millennial and Gen Z bettors, which represent 97% of its active users. The operator also hopes the app will help further build on its position as the most engaged esports betting brand globally.

“We are engaging a demographic with unique consumption habits and betting preferences,” said Salz. “This is a generation that expects more from the products, entertainment and brands they consume, and we’ve customized our online betting experience to match that. Our differentiated user experience continues to act as a catalyst for our company, and we’re excited to bring this offering to the palm of our customers’ hands.”

There are also options for folks that aren’t into esports. Users can wager on various traditional sports, including football, soccer, basketball and more. Rivalry’s mobile app is available to Ontario residents ages 19 and older.

Josh Allen one of Ontario’s most bet on pro athletes

The Bills are the adopted “home NFL team” of many Ontarians due to Buffalo’s close proximity to Toronto, Canada’s largest city. That popularity of betting on the Bills in Ontario shines through when you look at the results of the first year of legal sports betting in the province.

According to theScore Bet, Josh Allen was the fourth-most bet on athlete in Ontario during the first year of legal wagering. He only trailed three Toronto Maple Leafs players. He was also the most bet on NFL player.

Allen’s betting popularity is carrying over into the second year of legal betting in the province. According to PointsBet Ontario, Allen accounts for 13% of MVP bets in Ontario, the third most in the NFL MVP market. The Bills make up 24% of bets in the Outright Super Bowl LVII Winner market, more than any other team.

Should Bills fans be worried about the ‘Madden Curse?’

For Josh Allen, it is an honour to see his face on the cover of Madden. He told ESPN that if anyone had told him in high school that this would happen, he wouldn’t have believed them.

“It’s such a small group of people who have ever touched the face of Madden, so now to be on that list, it’s very surreal. It’s very humbling,” said Allen. “To think about where I was not too long ago and coming out of high school with zero offers, going to junior college and have one offer, University of Wyoming of all places, and then fast-forward to now. I don’t know if I would have believed you at that point, if you were to tell me in high school. It’s so surreal. Madden has such a special place in my heart.”

Being on the Madden cover is terrific news for Allen. However, is it such great news for Bills fans?

“The Madden Curse” is an infamous jinx where the player featured on the cover of EA Sports’ annual NFL game is doomed to encounter something terrible. It may be poor luck, a decline in play or maybe a severe injury. It is superstition at its finest.

Conspiracy theorists had a lot to go on during the early 2000s. In 2000, Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders was on the cover. However, his abrupt, unexpected and controversial retirement came in July 1999. Meaning he never set foot on the field after landing on the Madden cover. A massive example came in 2003 when Atlanta Falcons quarterback Micheal Vick was on the cover before suffering a fractured fibula less than a week after the game’s release.

However, the curse may be losing its lustre. Over the last 10 years, only three of the cover athletes have had subpar seasons. In fact, it has been clear sailing for the last four.

Now, two out of the four are Patrick Mahomes. And in this day in age of football, it is hard for a good quarterback to have a bad season. There is always the concern of injury, which is increased for Allen based on his style of play.

However, Bills fans should feel good about their QB being on the cover of the NFL’s signature video game.

Photo by EA Sports
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C.J. Pierre

C.J. Pierre is a Lead Writer at Play Canada. He has been covering news and sports for over a decade for both online and TV broadcasts. He was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN and is an alum of Minnesota State University: Moorhead. He recently dove into tribal casino and online gambling news. He also covered the launch of sports betting in Arizona. C.J. has experience as a reporter and videographer and has covered high school, college and professional sports throughout his career, most notably following Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings and North Dakota State University football.

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