EA Sports Facing Tough Decision on Tiger

Posted December 14th, 2009 at 9:19 am


Over a week ago I wrote my first take on the Tiger Woods situation. At the time it was basically just about infidelity and suspicious circumstances surrounding a car accident. Sponsors were sticking by him and public opinion, while down, was still in support of him as a sports figure. That all has spiraled down since with news that has worsened on a daily basis significantly changing perception. It now may just be a matter of time before EA Sports has to drop Tiger as the face of their golf franchise.

The number of women he is linked to has reached double digits. Included in that bunch are a couple porn stars. Details such as Ambien fueled sex makes him come off even worse. Images of his mother-in-law being rushed to the hospital and the 911 call by his wife speak to the gravity of what he has brought on his family and the stress they have all been under. It is one thing to read about all his mistresses but adding his own words through published text messages and hearing him in the voicemails makes it that much more striking.

Initially all the companies associated with Tiger Woods released statements in support of him. In recent days they have started distancing themselves. Accenture has announced that they will be ending their deal with him. Gillette is removing him from much of their advertising campaign. Tag Heuer is doing the same. Gatorade is dropping his line of sports drinks.

Forbes published an article expressing their belief that EA Sports to eventually do the same. EA has since responded that there is no change in their relationship with Tiger at this time.

What these companies had hoped for was for Tiger to get back out and change the story. He needed to come out and make a public appearance and statement which he hasn’t done. Mostly though he needed to be on the course winning tournaments. That won’t be happening as he announced via written statement that he is taking an indefinite hiatus from golf. Most suspect he will be back for The Masters in April but that is uncertain.

It presents some difficulty for EA Sports in making a final determination. They are actually in the best position compared to the other companies he endorses. The video game is all about the sport and his association to it, not so much about his public image. Tiger Woods 11 would not release until June so a decision does not have to be made immediately. EA can wait it out for a couple months and make a decision then based on the climate at that time. They have no incentive to make an announcement right now unlike the others who have ongoing marketing campaigns.

My earlier feeling was that EA would most likely be able to ride it out. I don’t believe that is the case anymore. The game sells the best on the Wii which is a very family-centric consumer base. His image has been tarnished too much. Marketing the game would be difficult because they would not be able to push sales through Tiger’s popularity any longer and would have to avoid inevitable backlash that would come from their continuing to support him.

Already we have seen some effects on sales of Tiger 10. The game has been out for nearly six months so it isn’t a dire situation by any means but retailers are slashing prices on the game. Given the timing it probably isn’t a coincidence. Last week Amazon reduced the Wii version by 25% for a sale and currently it is reduced by 20%. The 360 and PS3 versions haven’t seen as much movement. The Wii really appears to be where the prospect of keeping Tiger presents the biggest conflict.

What would put the story over the top would be the release of nude pictures or a sex video, both of which have been rumored and Tiger has filed an injunction to prevent should something show up. There is no proof that either exist but given the circumstances of what he has been involved in the possibility doesn’t seem all that far fetched. If anything along those lines comes to fruition there wouldn’t be a question any longer on whether EA would be able to keep him.

At this time I would put the likelihood of Tiger being dropped by EA at 60/40. We may not know for sure for several months however and a lot is dependent on how the story continues to develop. Should it happen I don’t believe that he would be replaced by another golfer in the title of the game. No one in the sport comes near his stature and it would only lead to stories that center on the “guy who replaced Tiger”. The game would probably just end up as EA Sports PGA Tour 11.