* EA features Augusta National in Tiger Woods video game
* EA banks on Woods comeback for stronger game sales
* Sales of EA's Tiger Woods game down 50 percent-analyst
By Liana B. Baker
NEW YORK, April 8 Golfers worldwide want a shot
at Augusta National Golf Club -- but what about gamers?
Electronic Arts Inc ERTS.O, hoping to revive its golf
video game franchise, is featuring the famous course for the
first time in "Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 12: The Masters," giving
sports and video game fans a chance to compete on a virtual
version of Augusta National.
At the Masters this week, EA has launched an all-out
marketing blitz for the new game, including showing clips of
the game in the tournament's merchandise pavilion.
That follows a 30-second television spot EA began running
late last month that resembles an advertisement for the
Masters, showing a regular guy playing at the tournament with
narration by sports broadcaster Jim Nantz.
Craig Evans, the director of marketing for EA Sports, said
he is now hoping a thrilling, closely contested tournament will
keep viewers at the edge of their seats and generates even more
interest in the course, which has hosted the Masters since
"It helps if you have a great tournament this weekend that
that goes down the wire," Evans said, speaking from Augusta,
The EA golf franchise, which has generated $671.3 million
in revenue for the company since its debut in 1998, according
to market research firm NPD, has seen its popularity wane in
recent years. Analysts blame the decline on the fortunes of
Tiger Woods, for whom the EA golf game is named after.
"Tiger's fall from the leader boards contributed to
declines in game sales," said Wedbush Securities analyst
Michael Pachter, who estimates that game's sales have dropped
50 percent from levels seen in 2006-2008.
Tying the game into the Masters was a savvy marketing move,
Pachter said, especially because it created some distance from
Woods, who has lost sponsors and fans over troubles in his
EA's Evans said sales from week one were "excellent" and he
expects the game to do better than last year, but he declined
to give specific projections.
Wedbush's Pachter said he expects the game to sell 20
percent to 25 percent more than last year, while Sterne Agee
analyst Arvind Bhatia predicts a 10 percent bump.
EA said it would love Tiger to do well at the Masters to
boost the game's profile, and analysts have said the company
will probably stick with the highly recognizable Woods for
years to come, barring a complete meltdown this season.
"Don't expect EA to ultimately ditch Tiger Woods, because
let's face it, even a losing Tiger is still more popular than
whoever is winning in golf," said Jesse Divnich, an analyst
with video game market research firm EEDAR.
(Reporting by Liana B. Baker, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)