While other companies have dropped out, EA Sports has remained a staunch supporter of Tiger Woods over the past few months. But is the motivation to stand behind the beleaguered golfer more about loyalty or money, and will their strategy pay off? A Q&A with EA Sports president Peter Moore.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
(Posted April 8, 2010)
The trials and tribulations of Tiger Woods have been well documented since the one-vehicle SUV accident outside his Florida home in the early morning of Thanksgiving Day 2009 turned his private life into a soap opera. Woods stayed out of public view until Feb. 19, when he made a statement on national TV that touched on family, friends, foes and business partners. His first post-accident press conference came on April 5 as he prepared to take part in The Masters at the Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club, Woods' first appearance on the pro golf tour since winning The Australian Masters in Melbourne on Nov. 15.
Due to the allegations of marital infidelity and lifestyle that anchored his fall from grace, Woods saw several of his marketing partners cut ties with him, first Accenture, followed by AT&T and PepsiCo's Gatorade. Analysts said that cost him an estimated $30 million in annual endorsement fees. However, among the corporate partners that did not end relationships with him, Nike and EA Sports were among the most steadfast to publicly support Woods. Nike on April 8 unveiled the first new TV spot with Woods since 2009, "Earl & Tiger," featuring Woods and a voiceover from his late father. But EA Sports, which has a marketing deal with Woods that dates back to 1999, unveiled two titles featuring Woods: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, due to hit stores in June; and Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online, which underwent Beta testing prior to its official release on April 6 with marketing support.
As Woods made his return to the PGA Tour at The Masters, with opening rounds on April 8-9, Peter Moore, who has been president of EA Sports since 2007, spoke with NYSportsJournalism.com about the videogame company's past, present and future alliance with Woods, a relationship that, since the release of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 99, has sold more than 25 million units worldwide.
NYSportsJournalism.com: What was your reaction to what Woods said and how he conducted himself during the press conference at The Masters?
Peter Moore: I thought he did fine. It's all about golf now. It's something we've been saying since early January when we [publicly] supported him. Our focus is on Tiger Woods the golfer. And I think you saw that [at the press conference]. We are excited to see how he does at The Masters. I think it will be a phenomenal story if he is competitive. It has been a long time since he has swung a golf club in a real competition [since mid-November when he won The Australian Masters in Melbourne]. So it will be fascinating to see how he does.
NYSJ: Has EA Sports had dialogue with Woods or his management team since the incident on Thanksgiving Day?
PM: Yes. We talk to them every day, particularly with the development and launch of the game. Over the last few months, with everything that has been going on, it has been very important to us that we were in full communication with his management team. Which we have been. They have been very forthcoming with details about what has been going on. We got a bit of a heads up, for example, when they were going to make the announcement about Tiger playing at The Masters. So it's worked well. We have been somewhat lucky this week with the full commercialization of Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online basically coming 48 hours before his first tee shot.
NYSJ: Other companies cut their marketing ties with Woods after his car accident when details about his private life became public. Why did EA Sports decide not only to remain with him but publicly support him?
PM: He has sponsors, but our role with him is much bigger than that. His name is on our product. He is in our product. This is much different from other companies that have used him mainly as an endorsement figurehead. There has never been any doubt that Tiger Woods is currently the greatest golfer in the world and will be so until someone proves that otherwise. Over the past 12 years there has been a great mutual relationship between Tiger Woods and EA and we intend for that to continue.
NYSJ: Have you gotten response from consumers and other business people regarding your strategy to support Woods?
PM: We've seen no drop off in business. The great thing about our business is that it is eagerly supported by millions of consumers who all want their opinions heard. We have developed a network of blogs, forums and other interactive communications. We are always taking the pulse of our consumers. There has never been any wavering that I've seen. The announcements that we've made since early January when we started to publicly support him have been nothing but positive. We made it very clear that we are talking about Tiger Woods the golfer and have tried to be very supportive about the challenges that Tiger Woods the husband and father is going through. But our relationship with him is Tiger the golfer and there has been very little if any negative response that I have seen in any of the feedback that we are getting.
NYSJ: Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online launched this week, but how did you prepare for the launch?
PM: There were two phases. We had a closed beta test initially, and then in January we went to an open beta. We had great results with what we call "commercialization," which is open to the public, and also the business models built in. We went live [April 6] and we have our fingers crossed for a great reaction.
"Tiger has sponsors, but our role with him is much bigger than that. His name is on our product. He is in our product. Other companies use him mainly as a figurehead."
NYSJ: What type of marketing support will you have?
PM: It will be all online because the idea is obviously if you see it online in a banner [ad] you simply click on it. It is the ability to get instant gratification with the experience. All of our focus [with the launch], particularly [tied] to The Masters, is online. So we have [media buys on] ESPN.com, Yahoo! Sports, SI.com, PGATour.com, all of the places you would expect to find golfers who are interested in The Masters, as well as the potential for attracting customers who are interested in picking up the strategy business.
NYSJ: Will you have activation at The Masters?
PM: We have a number of team members on-site as we always do. The excitement [for Tiger Woods], especially coming off of the press conference [Woods held on April 5] is pretty clear. This may be the most-watched single golf tournament in history.
NYSJ: Can you explain some of the key points of the game?
PM: There is a free course you can play that gets you up and running that hopefully converts visitors to paying customers. You build your own avatar and progress through the game. As you do so, you can earn points which are dollars you can use to buy clubs and to step up to prove yourself against the world's best golfers. But you start off as a somewhat generic golfer. Like most classic online games, you have to build your way up.
NYSJ: Given the circumstances of his personal life, have you heard from any female consumers regarding EA's support of Woods?
PM: I would say we are not getting any different response from female consumers than from male consumers. Again, we are targeting Tiger the golfer versus Tiger's private and personal life, and people are very clear that they still support Tiger the golfer. You will see that at The Masters and in other golf events moving forward. This is a guy who has recreated the game of golf on a commercial level over the past 10-15 years. His fellow professional golfers are delighted to see him back. Anybody who has been associated with the game is delighted to see him back. The game is more exciting when he's in it than when he's not. People recognize that. Despite the challenges of the last few months that he has been going through, I think we are all very excited for him.
NYSJ: As he tries to rebuild his personal life, what do you see ahead for Woods regarding the marketing and business aspects of life?
PM: There are a lot of brands that would want to be associated with Tiger Woods the golfer. It was a pretty small but heady group prior to November. I can see why some brands found it difficult to stay with him. But other brands such as EA and Nike have been steadfast. We have a different relationship with him than some of the brands that simply use him as an endorser. But as soon as he gets back out there and becomes the golfer that we all knew prior to November, you will see a lot of companies aligning with him. But that is something we are not worried about. We are focused on our relationship with him and on continuing to deliver great products.
NYSJ: What is EA Sports' upcoming schedule regarding product releases?
PM: We are the exclusive sponsor of the FIFA World Cup from an interactive basis. Our World Cup title comes out the last week of April and is not only eagerly awaited but will kick off all the excitement in South Africa. We have the Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 in June. Then we roll right into NCAA Football 11 in July [with Tim Tebow on the cover]. And Madden NFL 11 comes along in August with our usual fanfare.
NYSJ: Overall, would you change anything you've done with regards to Tiger Woods over the past few months and as far as your strategies moving ahead?
PM: We certainly would not change a thing with regards to how we have acted over the last few months. We have a bigger product slate attached to Tiger the golfer than ever before. And we will continue to show Tiger in the light that everybody loves to see him, which is on the golf course.