Maria Sharapova: Nike and Tag Heuer deserve few plaudits for jumping ship from overvalued endorsements

 
Jacques de Cock
Maria Sharapova Announces She Failed Doping Test
Sharapova admitted to failing a drugs test at this year's Australian Open (Source: Getty)

Maria Sharapova has been the most marketable female sports star for the last 10 years with earnings of £21m in 2015 alone.

£16m of these earnings were mainly from endorsements from Nike and Tag Heuer, both of which provided her with possibly 40 per cent of her endorsement revenues.

Porshe, Evian, Sugarpova, Head, Avon, Netjets, Canon and Tiffany are some of her other current and past sponsors wishing to be associated with the glamour held by both tennis as a sport and Sharapova herself.

Read more: Nike and Tag Heuer suspend Sharapova endorsements

The high-level costs of endorsements are understandable when you look at the size of the tennis industry with sales of £4bn in the US alone and the importance of endorsements to sell sporting clothing and equipment. The value of any tennis player is related both to their likability, glamour, social media and success rating.

But, at age 29, Sharapova’s career was already on the wane and despite her 15m likes on Facebook and 2m Twitter followers she did not have a massive social media presence compared to other celebrities. Some of her Facebook posts only receive a few thousand likes and some of her tweets gain just a few hundred retweets.

The revelation that she used Meldonium in early January, after it had been designated a disallowed substance, is a blow and has certainly harmed her image. She responded proactively by accepting total and unquestioning responsibility for the positive drug test but also explaining the extenuating circumstances, which is likely to excuse the fault with her existing fans. This shows the shrewd business and marketing savvy of Sharapova and her team.

Despite the possible minor nature of this positive test the main brands associated with her have been quick to sever ties. I believe this is due to the fact that Sharapova's endorsements have in the last few years been a poor investment, in particular for Nike, and therefore brands have been only too pleased to find a good reason to sever ties or break contracts. This is why Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche, probably her three biggest sponsors have been so quick in abandoning Sharapova.

So it is very likely, whatever happens in relation to the International Tennis Federation sanctions, that Sharapova will not regain her historic earning powers. I do not believe she would have made such a full admission of guilt if she knew the ITF was not going to ban her for some time, possibly years.

In the current endorsement markets many marketable stars are insisting on multiyear high-value contracts to insulate themselves from tribulations due to injury and poor performance. It is likely that the companies entering these contracts will also be quick in reacting when sports stars do something that enables them to trigger a contract clause to terminate poorly performing contracts without fear of litigation.

However, I do not think that this is the complete end to Sharapova's career - she is too marketable and media friendly.

Her infringement too excusable to have a complete career collapse but it is almost certain that she will have to re-invent herself, probably as a tennis commentator.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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