It's hardly a coincidence that Electronic Arts (ERTS) launched "Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online," a free golf game accessible through any Internet browser, this week. The game officially went live the same week as Woods's grand re-entrance into the golf world at the 2010 Masters.
After a series of practice rounds earlier this week, the world's best-known golfer officially tees off at the Masters at 1:42 p.m. Thursday. As Woods's first professional performance since last November, when news of his marital affairs first broke, the event is expected to draw a record numbers of viewers.
And EA, one of a handful of big-ticket sponsors that maintained its relationship with Woods even after revelations surfaced surrounding improprieties in the golfer's personal life, stands to benefit.
"It makes sense that EA accelerated the release of the game to this week," says Janco Partners analyst Mike Hickey, who covers EA. "Tiger is a huge draw and [EA is] going to get a tremendous amount of attention for the game and for its loyalty."
Record Viewing Expected
Reached Wednesday at the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, EA Director of Marketing Craig Evans acknowledged the benefits of timing the release of the game with the tournament.
"For many golf fans, the Masters marks the beginning of the golf season, and coupled with Tiger's return to competition, all eyes will be focused on the sport of golf. We are delighted that Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online is part of this exciting week," Evans says.
From a business perspective, EA's game targets a different audience than that of its more popular, money-making games, such as its Madden NFL series. The online version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour is aimed at a new demographic for the company – the over-40 crowd.
A New Generation of Gamers
The game doesn't require a game console or cost any money to play, at least initially. It allows users to play for free on two courses, then offers subscriptions for $9.99 monthly, or $59.99 annually, for unlimited access.
Gaming website Gamasutra.com's Kris Graft calls the approach novel, regardless of the Woods connection.
"I can't predict whether or not this year's version of Tiger's games will sell less because of the scandal, but I can tell you that gamers care most about whether or not a game is fun, not whether or not its spokesperson is unfaithful," he says. "And EA has shown over the years that Tiger Woods PGA Tour is fun."
The game is expected to have little impact, if any, on EA's bottom line, but will go a long way toward expanding its marketing reach and attracting new customers, Hickey says. At least this week, EA's gamble to stick with Woods is paying off, he. This month, EA's stock price is up 12 percent.