Today Electronics Arts (EA), the $4 billion-a-year video game developer, announced that they would be ending the relationship with Woods, who has been the anchor of the EA golf game franchise for 15 years. Estimates of the liftetime revenue of the franchise are around $800 million, according to ESPN.com.
Woods shanked a few shots with his personal brand and on the golf course in the last few years. He has struggled to regain top form since his personal life fell into turmoil 2009 (he last won a major tournament in 2008). In that year, the worldwide media covered multiplying stories of extra-marital affairs and domestic disputes with then-wife Elin Nordegren, all of which culminated in the PR nightmare of a car crash in front of his house. The couple eventually divorced in 2010. Woods was dropped by several brands during the apex of his PR headaches, but EA stuck with him, possibly because reversing course on game development is harder than dropping a TV ad.
Nike, Woods' most prominent sponsor, has stuck with him, in a contract estimated at $20 million a year. Woods is still tightly identifiable with Nike, and he helped launch that companies' growing presence in the golf industry.
The move by Electronic Arts marks a big marketing shift away from Tiger. Rather than picking one new star, EA may instead start to diversify into newer golf personalties, say experts in the field. It has become well-known in the industry that sales of the Tiger-branded PGA Golf game have been lackluster, and there was the not-so-subtle hint that the brand was fading in 2011 when EA dropped Tiger from the cover.
"A lot of this has to do with younger golfers coming in and picking away at Tiger," said Anthony Fernandez, a sports writer and athletic branding conultant based in Florida. "Look at Rory Mcllroy, he is the next Tiger Woods. EA probably wants to find somebody younger."
EA did not give a reason for ending the relationship, but did say it will now work with the PGA Tour to develop its next-generation golf game. That could be that it diversifies across many players, much the way it has done in developing its FIFA Soccer game, which features a wide range of stars. The obvious upside of this tactic -- when your star gets into trouble at the local nightclub, there are plenty of others to chose from.
Fernandez points out that most big athletic brands have a limited shelf life, and marketing partners have to be constantly re-evaluating their relationships.
"Every athlete eventually exhausts their brand," said Fernandez. "Even LeBron will get old some day. How often do you see an athlete on the cover of a magazine for 15 years? It just shows how dominant Tiger was."