Madden game will be released at midnight

The start of the NFL season might be a month away, but for thousands of sports video game fanatics across the country, Tuesday is Opening Day.

Tuesday marks the nationwide launch of Madden '06, the 16th edition of the game that features the voice and image of former Oakland Raiders coach and current broadcaster John Madden. The game has grossed more than $1.5 billion in sales for its producer, Electronic Arts, selling more than 43 million copies over the years.

It will be available at selected retailers at midnight ET.

This year, EA faces less competition than ever in the football video game marketplace.

Chat with Darren Rovell about the release of Madden '06 on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET. Send your questions now!

A fierce pricing war last year with Take-Two Interactive, the company that produced the ESPN NFL 2K5 Football game, forced EA officials to reduce the game's price to $29.99, a reduction of $20. EA reacted aggressively in December, signing an exclusive five-year agreement with the NFL and its players, reportedly worth $400 million, that made Madden the only licensed game on the market.

Without the license, only one company, Midway Games, has decided to produce a game this year.

Soon after striking the NFL deal, EA added another exclusive by stripping the ESPN name from Take-Two, negotiating a 15-year deal to use the ESPN name and graphics in its games.

How much Electronic Arts will be able to use the ESPN brand name in future Madden games is still unclear. Last month, the company signed Madden to a contract extension, but the 69-year-old announcer will be leaving the ABC/ESPN family after this season to broadcast "Sunday Night Football" on NBC.

In recent years, the Madden game has received plenty of attention because of the so-called cover curse. In 2003, cover athlete Michael Vick broke his leg just one day after the game hit the shelves. He played in only five games that season. The year before, St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk -- who had five straight 1,000-yard seasons -- injured his ankle after appearing on the cover. He ran for 953 yards that season and hasn't hit the 1,000-yard mark since.

Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb is this year's cover subject. "I'm just not worried about it," McNabb told ESPN.com in June.

With little threat of competition, and plenty of licensing fees for Electronic Arts to pay off, the price of this year's game will return to $49.99.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.