Every day I wake up, have breakfast, get ready for work and so on. Every day I get better at doing so, because every action is perfected and routinary. This kind of thought inspired me to think about iterative games, such as sports one.
Every year, during this period, a new sport game is out, whether it is football, soccer, basketball or any kind of sport you are into. After its release developers start thinking about the next one, because with such a short development time they don't have the time to take much time off.
One of the critics I hear is that every year is the same apart from a couple of features, but that is just not the truth. Even putting aside the fact that on every console generation the team must provide a game with a new engine, in the same development time, often with two version of the game, both for old and next gen, the critic is still not true.
Working on a sport game is just not about updating jerseys and names, it is a constant work on small details to balance and sort out what you have failed to deliver last year. For developers must be really stressful to manage past mistake, it is like working on a constant DLC that can always be better, personally I think it can be caging for those teams.
Customers expect to have issues fixed and new compelling features, that is why it seems that every iteration is so similar to the last one, reality is we only see the small steps to a result that could never be "the best <insert sport> game ever", because of the heavy lift the franchise has from the last game.
Given that a solution to this infinte circle, and maybe a chance for sports game to be considered important and relevant in, say, awards nominees other than their own category, is to split this development cicle.
Picture this: at the beginning of a generation a game is released, then every year you get, for a small amount of money, new jerseys, names and bugfixes, in the meanwhile the vast majority of the team which is not working on those changes, works on a 3-4 years of development game, having the possibility to innovate and change substantially: engine, physics, balance, AI, modes and so on, knowing that when they are ready, they will already have the material the other team has been working on.
At the beginning it might seem confusing, and surely it is a development cost, but in the long run could be the fresh air the genre needs. That is why every couple of years you should change your morning routine.