Sunday 21 December 2014

Tiger Woods no longer 'in the game' for console giants

90pc fall in sales behind EA ending €560m 15-year partnership, writes Oliver Brown

Oliver Brown

Published 30/10/2013 | 01:00

EA Sports have become the seventh major corporation to drop Tiger Woods
EA Sports have become the seventh major corporation to drop Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods has lost one of the most lucrative and long-standing endorsement deals in sport as EA Sports dropped him as the face of its computer golf game after a 90pc decline in sales in five years.

The company's move to end the 15-year association, which has yielded Woods €560m – almost seven times the world No 1's on-course earnings over the same period – is a symbolic one for the American, who has retained only two of his original sponsors since his 2009 scandal.

While both Nike and Netjets, a private jet company, have remained unstinting in their loyalty, EA Sports has become the seventh major corporation to jettison Woods after Gillette, Gatorade, AT&T, Accenture, Buick and Tag Heuer all abandoned him in the aftermath of his adultery.

But this time the trigger was not the perceived damage inflicted by his cheating but a sharp decline in his marketability, with the 2013 version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour having sold just over 300,000 copies so far, compared to 3.39 million in 2008.

Woods' agent Mark Steinberg, who confirmed he was already looking for a replacement video game platform for Woods, tried to put a positive spin on being jettisoned by such a long-term partner.

"We had an incredible run," he said. "You would be hard-pressed to find a sports figure that meant as much to a game company as Tiger did to EA. But times are changing. EA had to re-evaluate the partnership and frankly, so did we."

It all sounded like the cold language of divorce, as EA vice-president Daryl Holt dispassionately announced that he "wished Tiger well". But Steinberg was right in one sense, in that the trends among a younger golfing fanbase are moving quicker than even Woods, at 37, appears able to keep up with.

Tellingly, Woods has not been the main selling point for EA's golf franchise since 2011, when he had to share the cover of the game with Rory McIlroy.

EMBLEM

Last year Rickie Fowler, the sport's other emblem of youth, also joined the publicity images.

EA has consistently stressed it would stick by Woods in light of his multiple extramarital affairs. But now that EA is advancing to a 'next-generation' release of the game, Woods has been left behind entirely, even though it is unlikely he will suffer much financially.

With five titles this season he has reinforced his status as the highest-earning sportsman in the world, with an estimated net worth of €428m. Nike continue to pay him €14.6m a year as he toasts his success in winning the US money list for a 10th time. The man who became the first athlete to earn a billion dollars before tax is not exactly destitute.

Still, the timing of EA's move was far from ideal, given Steinberg's insistence this season that a host of blue-chip companies are ready to open their chequebooks for his star client.

Woods has profited from his return to form by recovering at least part of his denuded portfolio, signing deals with Rolex, sports nutrition firm Fuse and, more implausibly, a Japanese company which makes a back rub called Kowa.

There has also been an upturn in his course design business after projects in Dubai and North Carolina were halted by the global credit crisis. The first course with Woods as architect is due to be opened next year in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

In the day job, however, Woods is conspicuous by his absence at Sheshan International in Shanghai, venue of the one World Golf Championship that he has never won.

He has still found time to collect a €2.3m appearance fee for his exhibition match against McIlroy in Haikou, in the knowledge he will be pocketing the same again by turning up at the Turkish Airlines Open in seven days' time.

Woods has issued a veiled threat to the Golf Channel that he expects it to run a televised apology for a column written by analyst Brandel Chamblee, which argued that his series of rules violations this year amounted to cheating. Otherwise, Woods is holding true to his promise to "move forward" from the row with Chamblee.

He is understood to be spending the rest of his Far East excursion at a variety of meet-and-greets in the casino resort of Macau. Again the HSBC Champions, which he skipped last year on the premise of conducting "corporate work" in Singapore, finds no place.

Giles Morgan, head of sponsorship for HSBC, has described Woods's two-year snub of the event, dubbed 'Asia's Major', as "disappointing". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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