Gaming, grooming share tee time

CINCINNATI — Gillette has teamed up with EA Sports in a push to expand its sports marketing into video gaming in a major way.

Golfer Tiger Woods, a veteran of marketing for both businesses, helps tee off the new partnership as part of an upcoming global online sports games competition that gives winners a chance to play head-to-head against real-life sports stars.

Woods said in a telephone interview that he plays friends in tournaments on EA Sports' Tiger Woods PGA Tour game. EA Sports launched the '09 version of the game this week, and Woods is one of the "Gillette Champions" in marketing for the shaver maker.

Details of the tournament will be announced in October. Live finals are planned in Tampa, Fla., in January. There, Woods and other sports stars will play winners.

Gillette and EA Sports officials say the partnership will include joint retail promotions, print and TV advertising, and a heavy online presence. They say they're both targeting young men through sports and want to build their businesses in markets around the world.

"This is a classic partnership where we're leveraging mutual assets," said Peter Clay, Gillette vice president of global grooming. "It's very efficient for both of us."

For decades, the shaver maker has sponsored traditional sports such as baseball, boxing and football, and more recently it added NASCAR because of its growing popularity.

"Times have changed," Clay said. "Young guys are still watching live-action sports, so we still have a big presence there, but they're also spending a lot of time gaming. That's where guys are these days."

Bruce Cohen, a strategist for retail consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates, said EA Sports gains an experienced marketing partner with deep pockets and global reach.

Gillette is part of Cincinnati-based consumer products giant Procter & Gamble Co. P&G recently reported that Gillette's five-blade Fusion shaving system, launched in 2006, has become its fastest brand to reach $1 billion in annual sales.

EA Sports belongs to video game publisher Electronic Arts Inc., based in Redwood City, Calif. Among its popular sports games are Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Madden NFL and FIFA Soccer.

Video game sales continue to grow, even in a sluggish U.S. economy. Electronic Arts reported sales of $3.67 billion, up 19 percent, in the fiscal year ended March 31.

"This is the first time anything of this scope has been done before," Peter Moore, president of EA Sports, said of the partnership.

When Woods plays video golf with friends, he says, he plays as self-created characters: "One's a really buffed-out dude," another is pudgy.

Woods joked that he wants a handicap for the video game tournament. He said he's been spending more time playing video games these days as he recovers from knee surgery, but he doubts he'll be ready to beat a top video gamer.

"I better stick to my day job," he said.