*The writing on the wall began last year, when Electronic Arts made Tiger Woods share the cover of his bestselling video game with another golfer (Northern Irish rookie Rory McIlroy) for the first time ever – in the wake of his sex scandal.
This year, following the controversy away from the green and lackluster play on it, Woods has been dropped altogether from the cover of the March 29th release of Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 12: The Masters on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii.
His image has been replaced with a shot of the iconic yellow flag at Augusta National Golf Club.
However, Woods will appear on the PlayStation 3 Collector’s Edition of the game, which will cost $10 more and include five additional courses.
EA Sports has worked with Woods since 1999 on what once was a perennial bestselling title. But last year, sales of the game dropped in the U.S. and around the globe dramatically.
According to videogame analyst David Cole of DFC Intelligence, sales of Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 11 were down 50% to 60% on a worldwide basis from 2009. While EA stood by their cover athlete, they did not work with him to promote the game last year. Traditionally, Woods does media interviews and appearances to launch each new game.
“The thing about golf is the whole business is tied to Tiger,” said Cole. “TV viewership was also down over 30%. If Woods wins, viewership should increase. With the overall sport being so tied to Tiger I don’t see EA parting ways in the near future. However, you could be less likely to see a major emphasis on Tiger.”
“The sales issues of the Tiger Woods video game are much broader and deeper than Tiger’s personal problems and has more to do with the entire golf sport struggling in 2010,” said Jesse Divnich, Vice president of Electronic Entertainment Design and Research. “Of course, one could argue the decline in the interest of golf has to do with Tiger’s extended absence and returned poor performance. But even if that was true, it says a lot about the PGA Tour and their over-reliance on one person to carry the whole league. PGA exposed itself to this risk and now is facing the consequences. “
During a media conference call to discuss the new game, EA Sports President Peter Moore said that the game publisher is standing by the former number one golfer in the world.
“If the insinuation is it’s a reflection of EA Sports backing away from its relationship that goes back literally 13 years with Tiger, that’s not the case whatsoever,” said Moore. “You shouldn’t read anything into the fact that Tiger’s not featured on the box art of that particular edition…Tiger is right there on the PS3 version of the game with Move support, which was very good for us and Sony last year. We’ll continue that.”
“Obviously, it was a difficult year last year, but you saw towards the end of the season Tiger starting to get back to his old ways,” said Moore. “We all, as both a sports industry and sports fans, are hopeful he comes back in full force in 2011.”
Tiger will remain a featured playable character in the new game, along with 20 other professional golfers like 2007 Masters Champion Zach Johnson and Bubba Watson, a Team USA member of the 2010 Ryder Cup – Team USA. Jim Nantz and David Feherty will call the action in a new television broadcast presentation for the game.
“I am very happy and excited that the Masters Tournament is featured in the Tiger Woods PGA TOUR game,” said Woods in a statement. “There are many new and unique elements in the game that will make everyone feel like they’re really competing at Augusta National. This is great for the sport and will connect a new audience with the Masters, a tournament I’ve been fortunate to experience since 1995. Continually growing the visibility of golf is important to attracting newcomers to the sport, and I agree that showcasing the Masters Tournament in the game will bring an entirely new dimension to that approach.”
View images from Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 12: The Masters below…