TIGER Woods lost one of the most lucrative and long-standing endorsement deals in sport this week as EA Sports dropped him as the face of its computer golf game after a 90% decline in sales in five years.
The company’s move to end the 15-year association, which has yielded Mr Woods £480m (about R7.6bn) — almost seven times the world number one’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 sex scandal.
Although both Nike and Netjets, a private jet company, have remained unstinting in their loyalty, EA Sports is the seventh major corporation to jettison Woods after Gillette, Gatorade, AT&T, Accenture, Buick and Tag Heuer.
But this time the trigger was not damage inflicted by his cheating, but a decline in marketability: the 2013 version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour sold just more than 300,000 copies so far, compared with 3.39-million in 2008.
Mr Woods’s agent, Mark Steinberg, who confirmed he was already looking for a replacement video game platform for Mr Woods, tried to put a positive spin on being discarded.
“Outside of John Madden, 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,” he said.
It all sounded like the cold language of divorce as EA vice-president Daryl Holt dispassionately announced that he “wished Tiger well”.
But Mr Steinberg was right in that the trends among a younger golfing fan base are moving quicker than even Mr Woods, at 37, appears able to keep up with.
Tellingly, Mr 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 young rival Rory McIlroy. Last year Rickie Fowler, the sport’s other emblem of youth, also joined the publicity images.
Mr Woods is unlikely to suffer financially. With five titles this season, he has reinforced his status as the highest-earning sportsman in the world and has an estimated worth of £367m.
Nike continues to pay him £12.5m a year as he toasts his success in topping the US money list for a 10th time.
© The Daily Telegraph, London
• This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times