He might not want to take much credit for nearly four decades of excellence that made him a legend on the sidelines and a broadcasting career that sustained the longevity of his household name, but John Madden has earned the label of icon.
“He won a Super Bowl with the Raiders. The highest-winning percentage of all time and is getting into the Hall of Fame this year. He also has fifteen Emmy awards," said Sandy Montag, senior vice president of the of sports media company IMG and Madden’s agent for more than two decades.
And then there’s the electronic arts video game that has used his name for the past sixteen years and is contracted to use it for the rest of his life. At fifty-one million copies sold and counting, it’s one of the ten most popular franchises of all time, grossing more than $1 billion.
“I started doing that video game before there was even video games," said Madden.
The fever continues. This year for the first time, ESPN is broadcasting a sneak preview of the game. Hardcore gamers ponying up $19.95 to see it.
“You can always tell someone that plays the game. There are a lot of them and they say ‘Hey Madden.’ You know like, ‘I’m going to play Madden’," said Madden.
Players of the game include everyday fans, as well as the players themselves.
“The most common call we get is, ‘Hey, tell big man we need some more juice.’ You know, everyone thinks they’re too slow," said Montag. " And John will tell you the only person who ever thought he was too fast was Emmitt Smith."
Making appearances on the viral screen combined with being on the tube calling games, has made Madden the nation’s most popular sports broadcaster, according to the Q ratings. This season, Madden joins NBC, the fourth network he’s worked with, to announce the network’s Sunday Night Football matchups. Dick Ebersol, Chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, is Madden’s new boss. (MSNBC.COM is a joint venture of NBC and Microsoft.)
Madden has capitalized on his “everyman” image.
“John’s a wealthy man," said Montag. "The business of Madden is huge, we only do long-term deals. The EA deal, is north of twenty years, Ace Hardware about twenty years, Tinactin is fifteen years, Outback Steakhouse – we’ve just extended the Madden cruiser over ten years."
“I just think that for a company he’s a very safe play. He doesn’t have to go out and post a win every Sunday. He just does post a win every weekend. And he’s credible, he’s entertaining, he’s informative. And his demos, specifically with the video game, just make him an all-around brand," said Montag.
For those working with Madden, the septuagenarian’s relevance with young kids who don’t even know that Madden led the Raiders to a Super Bowl titles, is sometimes met with surprise. Al Michael’s will be Madden’s booth mate on Sunday nights this fall.
“It’s a case of my nephews, when they found out I was starting to work with John Madden, said ‘This is fantastic!’," said Michaels. "And all they wanted me to do was take the box and get it autographed by John."
Montag marvels at the Madden industry, even though both admit there never really was a set plan.
“He’s real. He’s blue collar, there’s no act. He doesn’t look at tape of himself. We don’t have strategy meetings to plan what we should do in the future," said Montag.
Madden did, however, have a plan to manage his money.
“When I was a kid, I was a caddy and when I was a caddy, I used to look at all those rich guys and I used to wonder how they all go to be so rich. So, I figured out there’s two things they they’ve done. They’ve all gone to college and they all own a lot of stuff," said Madden.
Madden counts real estate, a share in two minor league baseball teams, vineyards and almond orchards among his vast holdings.
“Almonds are great. Almonds are doing well. When we started on this, I think it was eighty-five cents a pound and now I think it’s $3.50 a pound," said Madden.
Madden will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for something he says he never considered an occupation.
“I’ve never worked. All I do is football and just go to games and do football video games. I’ve never really done anything else," said Madden.