Collateral damage? Tiger Woods fiasco may hurt Central Florida interactive gaming industry
Wake up and good morning. Could the body blow to Tiger Woods' sterling reputation as an sports advertising icon and product promoter actually damage a key piece of Central Florida's emerging tech economy? Sad to say that one person can be so pivotal, but the answer is yes.
The California-based video game developer Electronic Arts expanded into Orlando years ago where its EA Tiburon unit blossomed primarily on the strength of two blockbuster games: Madden Football and Tiger Woods PGA Golf Tour. The games are freshened annually, are perennial favorites and generate hundreds of millions in revenues even if the novelty of the games after so many years is fading.
(Photo: Reflectors on a suit worn by Tiger Woods glow in a photographer's flash as he putts during a motion capture session by EA Sports for a Tiger Woods PGA TOUR Golf video game in Orlando.)
The trick of EA Tiburon, of course, is when you operate the twin towers of Madden and Woods and the image of one gets smacked with bad publicity, options are limited. So, of course, you announce -- as Electronic Arts did earlier this week -- that it is standing behind Tiger Woods, at least for the release of a new online version of the golf game featuring the embattled athlete. Here's an AP story expanding on that theme.
Of course, the very sport of golf itself stands to lose billions over time from the fallout of Tiger Woods' marital indiscretions. Lots of people watch golf when Woods plays; a lot less watch it when he does not.
While it was convenient that Woods lived outside of Orlando for EA Tiburon to work with the golfer on its Woods-themed PGA golf games, the local publicity now has not helped the relationship. EA Tiburon, as part of Electronic Arts, has acknowledged the tremendous competition in the gaming world as Xbox and other game console-based games face more and more pressure from Internet-based games.
Central Florida, eager to encourage EA Tiburon for its potential to help build an interactive gaming industry in the state, has lavished praise on the company. And it helped the company form a joint educational venture known as the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, a graduate video game design school at the University of Central Florida offering an accredited master's degree in interactive entertainment. (Photo: Tiger Woods and his wife, Elin Nordegren, by AP's Chris Carlson.)
Nor is this just an Orlando phenomenon. Sarasota's touted Ringling College of Art and Design, already a feeder of young talent to Walt Disney's business in Orlando, enjoyed a leap in student interest based on the promise of next-generation jobs in Orlando in interactive game design. A synergy was developing that will be sapped by the Woods fallout.
Electronic Arts needs Tiger Woods to rebuild his image and to play golf again. The damaged Woods image has prompted many companies to abandon or curtail sponsorships.
AT&T said it would no longer sponsor Tiger Woods, joining Accenture in dropping support for the world's top golfer. Buick ended its endorsement one year early because of its financial woes. Gillette, a unit of Procter & Gamble Co., also has said it won't air ads for its razors that include Woods or include him in public appearances. And Swiss watch maker Tag Heuer, a unit of luxury goods empire LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, said that it would "downscale" its use of Woods' image in its advertising campaigns for the foreseeable future.
Bottom line? We may yet see some significant collateral damage to the hopes of a Central Florida interactive gaming industry due to the Woods fallout.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist