Tiger Woods has lost some major sponsors after revelations of marital infidelities hurt his image, but Electronic Arts Inc said on Tuesday it remains in the professional golfer's corner with plans for the next version of its Woods' branded video game.
The game, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12, will be available on the Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation3 consoles, and feature the Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. A version without the Masters will be available for the iPhone and iPad.
EA Sports President Peter Moore said pent-up demand for a video game focusing on the vaunted Masters course would drive considerable sales.
While most of the box art for the new version does not include Woods, Moore denied it was due to any desire to distance the company from the golfer.
If the insinuation is 'is this a reflection of EA Sports backing away from its relationship that goes back 13 years', that's not the case whatsoever, he said on a conference call with reporters.
The video game publisher said it will begin selling Tour 12 in North America on March 29 and worldwide on April 1.
EA Sports, along with Nike Inc, has been strong in its support of Woods despite his past sexual escapades and inability to win a single golf tournament last year.
On the other hand, Accenture, AT&T Inc, PepsiCo Inc's Gatorade all ended sponsor deals.
Procter & Gamble's Gillette brand was the latest to abandon Woods, letting its deal lapse at the end of 2010.
Woods was involved in an early morning auto accident in November 2009 that led to his admitting marital infidelities, and subsequently the loss of more than $35 million in annual sponsorship revenue and a divorce from his wife. Before the scandal, Woods earned an estimated $100 million a year from his sponsorship deals.
For the first time since turning pro in 1996, Woods did not win a single tournament last year, costing him his ranking as the world's No. 1 pro golfer. However, he remains the sport's biggest drawing card.
EA Sports, which generates about 30 percent of the parent company's overall revenue, signed a sponsor deal with Woods in 1997 and the new version will be the 13th of the console game that bears his name.
EA's sales of the game's 2011 version are expected to slide 30 percent to 35 percent from the 2 million units of the 2010 version sold, resulting in a revenue hit of about $20 million to $25 million, Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia said.
Moore declined to provide sales projections for the 2012 version.
Last year, EA launched a golf game on Facebook that did not carry Woods' name, but company executives said that had been the intention all along. In November, EA Chief Executive John Riccitiello suggested Woods needs to start winning for their deal to make sense.
Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne last year blasted Woods, saying he had failed to live up to expectations as a role model.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; editing by Gunna Dickson)