Back in the day, Sports games were one of biggest genres you could have on a gaming platform. Sports have universal appeal, so a simulation of Sports activities is a great way to appeal to both casual and hardcore gamers alike. In the earlier generations, Sports games were ubiquitous, with many publishers releasing them on every console, from realistic re-creations, to simplified, arcade-like takes. Even the platform holders, Nintendo, Sega, Sony, and Microsoft had their own in-house line of first party sports titles. But around the mid-2000s, many companies, including the big 3, began dropping Sports franchises, as one company began exerting more and more control over the genre.
Electronic Arts was already the leader in Sports games at their height, but at the turn of the new gaming generation, they became downright monopolistic. Today EA holds the exclusive rights to all major Sports leagues in the US, with the exception of NBA and MLB, who's rights are held by Take-Two and Sony respectively. If you want Football games, Soccer, Hockey, or Mixed Martial Arts, well you better hope you like Madden and FIFA, because EA's your only option as far as licensed games go. So what happened? Why are Sports games reduced to such a limited choice compared to previous generations? I think it was a combination of factors. But for starters, in 2004, after a heated battle between EA's Madden, Mircosoft's NFL Fever and Sega's NFL 2k series, the NFL sold the exclusive license for games to EA, making them the sole developer of NFL titles. Which killed Microsoft's XSN franchise, and forced Sega to sell off Visual Concepts to Take-Two Interactive, who at least still keeps the NBA 2k series alive today.
Second, the costs to produce high-end sports titles has increased significantly, as did the cost to license all the popular Sports leagues, shutting out many smaller studios and publishers who want to make Sports titles. As such, only EA has the money to afford all these Sports leagues under their belt, with Sony and 2K handling Baseball and Basketball if you're into those. You can still make a sports game on a small budget, but you likely won't be getting bleeding edge graphics or popular names for your game. The best way for smaller teams and indies to make Sports games now, is with Arcade sports, which is what I think is the future of Sports games now. You can make your own rules there, and don't have to worry about licensing and accuracy for the Sports leagues. Rocket League pretty much took Soccer, and replaced the real life players, with Driving mechanics, and it was a massive success.
What baffles me though, is that in an era of Live serivice games, and on-gowing patches and updates. The few publishers releasing big-budget Sports games today refuse to use that business model on the one genre where it actually makes sense. Selling yearly versions of the same game with slightly altered stats is an archaic practice in the digital age, when all that stuff can just be handled though software updates. But how else would they be able to sell you graphics that look marginally better than last year's game for $60? /s.