EA Sports moves forward with Tiger game rollout

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - EA Sports said on Monday it was moving forward with plans to introduce a Tiger Woods online game despite the top golfer's public relations nightmare and drastic drop in popularity following his adultery scandal.

The Electronic Arts Inc unit's president, Peter Moore, said in a company blog, www.itsinthegame.com, that the company would this month begin offering "Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online," a browser-based golf game developed in the past year.

"Our relationship with Tiger has always been rooted in golf," he wrote on the blog. "We didn't form a relationship with him so that he could act as an arm's length endorser.

"Regardless of what's happening in his personal life ... Tiger Woods is still one of the greatest athletes in history," he added.

EA's move comes four days after AT&T Inc terminated its sponsorship deal with Woods, joining other companies that have either distanced themselves or cut ties with the world's first billionaire athlete since he became engulfed in allegations of multiple extramarital affairs after a minor car accident outside his Florida home November 27.

Woods, believed to be the world's wealthiest athlete, estimated to earn about $100 million a year in endorsement deals before his troubles, confessed on December 11 to "infidelity." He announced he would take an indefinite break from golf to save his marriage to Swedish wife Elin Nordegren.

The game is one of EA Sports' first online efforts, to be offered to consumers initially at no cost during a testing phase, but eventually requiring a subscription fee to play.

EA, which previously had said its Tiger Woods PGA Tour business would remain unchanged, signed a sponsor deal with the world's No. 1 golfer in 1997 and has introduced 12 versions of the video game bearing his name.

However, Moore did not say on Monday whether EA would move forward with the expected rollout this summer of its next Tiger Woods PGA Tour video game, annually one of the company's highest-selling sports products. A spokesman declined further comment.

Previously, technology outsourcing and consulting firm Accenture Plc ended its endorsement deal with Woods, while Procter & Gamble Co's shaving products maker Gillette and Tag Heuer, a unit of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, said they would continue their relationships but drop Woods from their marketing.

In addition to EA Sports, others who have not backed away from Woods include athletic shoe maker Nike Inc, Upper Deck, Berkshire Hathaway's NetJets business and TLC Vision Corp, as well as developers in Dubai working on completing a Tiger Woods golf course project.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing Bernard Orr)