Tiger Woods: he was 'in the game', but not any more
EA Sports has dropped the golf star in favour of younger talent.
Tiger Woods may still be the world's number one golfer, but as far as the video games industry is concerned, the 37-year-old is already yesterday's news.
EA Sports, the company behind the immensely lucrative and long-running Tiger Woods PGA Tour game, this week called time on their 15-year-long association with the golfer.
And it's a decision that could see Rory McIlroy or Rickie Fowler take over what is one of the most lucrative franchises in gaming history – a brand that has already generated profits of €560m over its lifetime. Woods himself is estimated to have made €58m from the series.
McIlroy and Fowler have both already appeared in recent editions of the Tiger Wood PGA Tour game in supporting roles. And with the Irish golfer in particular looking for new sponsorship deals, he could be the natural successor to Woods.
The decision by EA Sports to break with the scandal-hit golfer has been interpreted by some as part of the continuing fall-out over his high-profile divorce and the bad publicity surrounding his string of extra-marital affairs.
Since that scandal broke, in 2009, Woods has lost major sponsors, with the likes of Tag Heuer, AT&T, Accenture and Gatorade either severing or failing to renew deals. Only two top-line sponsors remain – Nike and private aviation firm NetJets (owned by investment guru and golf nut Warren Buffett).
When EA sports looks to the top 10 for a natural successor to Woods, it may not be excited by the likes of 43-year-old Phil Mickelson, or number nine Brandt Snedeker, who last year equalled a British Open course record by playing what he modestly called "boring golf".
At just 23, Rickie Fowler, with his boyband looks and day-glo outfits, is one of the few young, flamboyant faces on the major tournament scene who could rival McIlroy in terms of star power.
But at 36 in the world rankings, the Californian with the dazzling smile is not nearly as successful as McIlroy. And even in his native America, he does not get the mainstream media attention the Ulsterman generates.
Sports games are incredibly lucrative. Long-running franchise titles such as EA Sports FIFA brand sell in the millions of units through retail stores and via digital download. FIFA 13 sold 14.5 million units up to June of this year, helping the video game giant generate revenues of €2.75bn in the 12 months to March of this year. FIFA 14 is already out and earlier this month knocked the record-breaking Grand Theft Auto 5 off the top-selling spot in the UK.
The world's top sportsmen – from Lionel Messi to Wayne Rooney or basketball superstar LeBron James – can earn millions from lending their image to the bestselling titles.
McIlroy could be the man to replace Woods on the PGA Tour. So it was timely that the two golfers faced off in a special exhibition match in China this week, with the younger guy beating the old master.
Woods may not have been too downhearted.
While McIlroy earned a reported €1m from the exhibition organisers, Woods proved he still commands the bigger fees, walking away with €1.45m.
With a net worth estimated in the €435m range (and that is taking into account his divorce settlement), the American remains far out ahead of his younger, Irish rival.
However, the decision by EA Sports this week may signal the end of an era in golf, in terms of who earns the really big bucks – off-course, at least.