Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sharapova Inc

by Savannah

While the tennis world debates the state of women's tennis and whether another WTA player who hasn't won a Slam will take over as number one the good folks at Sports Business Journal choose to publish this piece about Maria Sharapova and her selling power. I'm going to post the article in it's entirety so you can understand what lengths the WTA has gone to to promote one player while it's best players are denigrated and presented as not worthy of promotion world wide. I would find this article amusing except that I understand the innuendo. In my very humble opinion this is the first salvo in marketing Sharapova beyond tennis by emphasizing her appeal beyond that of a female athlete. Does this mean Sharapova is not going to be playing much tennis going forward as some have speculated and that her agent is trying to make sure she doesn't suffer the same fate as
Anna Kournikova who saw her endorsement revenue drop significantly about two years after she stopped playing?
This article proves she has a damn good agent at IMG.

Read carefully, make your own decision and please comment. All highlighting is mine.

No slowdown at Sharapova Inc.
Blue-chip sponsors spend big to promote ties to her
Staff Writer
Published March 30, 2009 : Page 01

It's just shy of five years since an obscure 17-year-old from Russia named Maria Sharapova stormed the global sports stage by winning Wimbledon. The victory sparked a commercial explosion unprecedented in women's sports, and neither the current economic slowdown nor an injury that's essentially sidelined the star since July has slowed Sharapova Inc.

The three-time Grand Slam champion was scheduled to make her return to singles action this week at the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Fla., but she is still hampered by a shoulder injury and will make only a brief appearance.

Three of her sponsors -- Tag Heuer, Cole Haan and Sony Ericsson -- unveiled in recent weeks marketing campaigns around Sharapova, notwithstanding the decline in the luxury goods market. Sharapova also just signed a new, $2.5 million-a-year deal with a shampoo maker.

From Sony Ericsson display ads in cell phone stores in India and China, to Cole Haan billboards in New York City, Sharapova's image resonates across the globe and cultures. All told, the business of Maria, including her take as well as sponsors' advertising and promotional spending, approaches $150 million annually.

Sharapova herself earns between $26 million and $30 million a year, mostly from endorsements. Prize money contributes only a small slice of her income. Since turning pro in 2002, her winnings total $10.2 million.

The media and the public have long assessed Sharapova's commercial success through an endorsement lens, and she's indeed the world's top-paid female athlete. Less inspected, however, are the expansive lengths her 10 sponsors take to promote their ties to the star.

Sharapova's appeal is built in part on her success
on the court. She has won three Grand Slam titles,
including the 2008 Australian Open and
Wimbledon in 2004, her first.

"Maria is as integrated throughout Cole Haan as anything we have ever done before and as much as anything I have ever done," said Michael Capiraso, the upscale apparel firm's chief marketing officer and who previously held marketing posts with the NFL and WPP sponsorship agency Prism. "If you go online, if you go in-store, if you look at advertising, if you go into any of our partners -- Bloomingdale's, Macy's -- you will see Maria."

Canon spends roughly $30 million annually promoting its ties to Sharapova, sources said. The company's ad agency, Dentsu, did not reply for comment, but Canon's spots featuring Sharapova and her interactions with a little white dog have fueled a multiyear, high-profile campaign.

And then there's Nike.

"There could be 10, 15 things going on around the world at one time, and that's just with Nike," said Max Eisenbud, Sharapova's agent at IMG who has represented her since she was 11.

The company spends so much money around Sharapova, sources said, it's one of the reasons why Serena Williams, currently the world's top-ranked player and whom Sharapova upset to claim her landmark 2004 Wimbledon win, has not found a suitable renewal offer for her own deal with the sneaker power. Nike declined to make an official available for comment.

Sharapova's sponsors are so active Eisenbud hosts a summit every two years in part to ensure they don't launch campaigns simultaneously. How serious a problem is sponsor conflict? Eisenbud estimated he spends 80 percent of his time managing this issue. Sharapova chose Sony Ericsson over LG Electronics in part because LG's U.S.-centric plans could have collided with the offerings of some of her other sponsors.

But it's not all separating kids in the sandbox. Nike and Tiffany & Co., whose only endorser is Sharapova, are cooperating to match her trademark, dangling earrings with tennis apparel at Grand Slams.

Eisenbud copiously schedules each year down to the hour, parsing the 14 to 16 days Sharapova commits to her sponsors. For appearances at sponsor parties, he bestows each company a single hour annually with her before one of the four Grand Slams. Photo shoots are limited to Saturdays between 1 and 8 p.m. in the offseason, four days next week following the Sony Ericsson Open, two days after Wimbledon and one day after the U.S. Open.

Beginning April 6 in Los Angeles, Sharapova will cram in photo shoots for Nike, its subsidiary Cole Haan, Canon, the shampoo company (whose identity could not be determined) and the cover of ESPN The Magazine. She returns to her home in Florida after April 10 to resume training, and leaves April 30 to compete in Rome.
Why Maria?
Cole Haan says its Sharapova campaign
produced 13M media impressions in a week.

Davie Brown, the Omnicom unit that ranks celebrities, places Sharapova's popularity in the United States in line with "A-list Hollywood 'It' girls, including Keira Knightley and Rihanna," according to a February study. That report does not track overseas, though, where Sharapova is arguably a far-greater celebrity.

Cole Haan's Capiraso said that in the first week after its campaign started in mid-February, there were 13 million global media impressions of Sharapova and the brand. In February, Sharapova was the eighth most-searched-for person on Yahoo! en Español's Pop page, and the only athlete in the ranking, despite her absence from tennis.

To many, the reason for Sharapova's popularity is obvious. Even her agent doesn't discount that a good measure of her fame boils down to the fact that she is a pretty blonde from Russia's Siberia.

But winning Grand Slam events and playing with a ferocious on-court style are also pluses, and U.S. residency allows her to straddle cultures. Her life story of emigrating impoverished to Florida at age 7 with her father, Yuri, gaining entry to the Bollettieri Tennis Academy at age 9, and winning Wimbledon eight years later is the fairy tale marketers clamor for.

"I left my mom and my country at the age of 7 to follow my dream," says Sharapova in a one-minute radio spot for Tag Heuer (to listen to the spot, click here). "At age 9, I was practicing tennis six hours a day in the Florida sun. I lived out of a suitcase for three years, traveling everywhere, competing in the middle of nowhere."

Then, after recounting her successes, she asks, "What are you made of?" the watchmaker's catchphrase.

Ulrich Wohn, president of the North American division of Tag Heuer, which boasts three other global ambassadors -- Tiger Woods, Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton and actor Leonardo DiCaprio -- said Sharapova speaks to the pursuit of living life and taking chances.

"What we get out of Maria is we get inspired," Wohn said. "Maria came from very humble beginnings and she was able to rise."

"Real" is another word Sharapova's companies and agent toss around. Consumers, they argue, react to her because she had a hand in designing many of the products she markets, including Cole Haan bags, Nike tennis dresses and a new phone Sony Ericsson planned to unveil last week.

"Tennis is a unique sport in that it bridges fashion and design and style," said Calum MacDougall, Sony Ericsson's head of sponsorship who, like many of Sharapova's backers, expressed little concern that, other than one doubles match, she has not played in eight months. "What is most interesting for us is not so much Maria the athlete, but the person. Her success on court helps, but we don't use Maria as a tennis player in any of our advertising. She is never dressed as a tennis player."

Name Comment
Nike Her biggest sponsor in terms of exposure and dollars; uses her mainly outside the United States.

Sony Ericsson Ran a sweepstakes for 18 fans from 10 global markets to win a trip to the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami to party with Maria; scheduled to launch an ad last week featuring Sharapova selling a new phone.

Cole Haan Sharapova is the face of its spring campaign.

Tag Heuer - Running a campaign with a strong Sharapova focus.

Canon - Ubiquitous ads with Maria and a little white dog.

Tiffany & Co. - Designing a Grand Slam collection of earrings that she showcases at the four Slams.

Parlux - Has a Sharapova-branded fragrance line that pays her royalties.

Prince Made Sharapova one of the top-paid racket endorsers in tennis history.
Land Rover - Mainly an event-based deal; no ads.

Shampoo company - Ads being shot in April in a deal that will pay her $2.5 million a year.

Sources: mariasharapova.com, SBJ sources

That's true of all of her commercial backers with the exceptions of endemic sponsors Nike and Prince. The ads take it for granted consumers recognize Sharapova and see her not as a tennis player but, rather, as a global, cosmopolitan woman who reaches eclectic audiences.

While there are several male athletes who transcend their respective sports and can tap into disparate corners of the globe -- Woods, Hamilton and David Beckham, to name a few -- Sharapova is one of the few women.

In the United States, the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, are better-known names, owing to longer careers, success and their own inspirational backgrounds. Neither has the number of deals as Sharapova, though, and in fact, each is without a sneaker and apparel contract, even as Venus continues to sell her own line, EleVen, online. Serena recently signed with Gatorade and Mission Skincare, and the sisters earlier this year were featured in an Oreo cookie ad with the NFL Manning brothers, Peyton and Eli.

"Let's say you want a global female athlete," Eisenbud said. "It's really just Maria. She is global because tennis is global, [and add] the fact that she is Russian, so she is not American but Americans think she is American. It makes her more appealing. Not to take anything away from Venus and Serena, they are great champions, but they don't mean as much, say, in Korea as Maria does."

What's next

The Davie Brown study predicted Sharapova's popularity is rising, with awareness of her up 31 percent between 2005 and 2008. The Williams sisters commanded the spotlight while Sharapova recuperated from her shoulder injury -- Serena winning at the U.S. and Australian opens, and Venus rising to No. 5 in the world rankings -- but it's clear the women's circuit missed the Russian's buzz factor.
When HBO last year bought the TV rights to a March 2 women's tennis exhibition at Madison Square Garden, the cable giant assiduously courted Sharapova to compete. Even before the extent of her injury emerged, she refused despite a plea from HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg. Instead, the Williamses were featured alongside fellow top-10 players Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic.

Greenberg is hardly the first person to hear no from Sharapova, who was not available for this story. She's also butted heads with Sony Ericsson WTA Chief Executive Larry Scott over her time committed to promote the tour, an age-old conflict on the circuit but one that is more pronounced with Sharapova.

Still only 21, Sharapova now is branching into other endeavors. She will serve as the executive producer of a weekly drama series loosely based on her life that MTV has agreed to run. Eisenbud is also planning an animation series portraying her as a tennis player by day and a spy/superhero by night who uses the global tennis tour as a cover. Sharapova plans to do voice-overs for both series.

For every new project or deal, there are dozens, if not more, she rejects. Alluding to Anna Kournikova, the Russian player who famously cashed in on her looks to the detriment of results, scoring tens of millions of dollars in endorsements but no tournament wins, Eisenbud characterized one of Sharapova's finest qualities as her willingness to forgo ever-more glamour. She's historically rejected comparisons to her compatriot, and not only because Sharapova boasts three Grand Slam and 16 WTA titles.

"She understands accepting a private jet to host the Kids Choice Awards means a bad week of practice," Eisenbud said of his client. "She has this unbelievable ability to say no."


Karen said...

LOL - I am laughing because if ever there was a case of damage control, this is it. My initial take when I saw this on DTL was that clearly the sponsors are not calling as much (recession anyone?). Also, as far as I am aware every athlete who has sponsors etc usually have performance clauses in said contract as well as a moral clause. Clearly as Sharapova is not performing right now her sponsors are perhaps taking a second look. As well, Sharapova is not a born athlete as are the WS. She was taught to play tennis. I recall years ago when MartinaN and a few others who were commentating mentioned that with Maria's service motion as well as how she hits her forehand she is going to develop shoulder problems that may be too hard to overcome. At the time I thought that was a dire prediction to make, but here we are, she is only but 21 (wink wink) and she has not played for almost a year (yes a year). Does anyone really think that Maria will be coming back to play singles and try and dominate the tour. Have they seen the upcoming talent these days. They hit the freaking fuzz off the ball and are even over-powering Venus/Serena. I think the whole purpose of this is to try and sell Sharapova as a model rather than an athlete who is a model. Good luck to them on that front. The only reason why she is popular is because of tennis. As to the whole Nike thing with Serena, I do not know what to say because I am seeing Serena in new duds all the time made by Nike so either she has a little sewing room at the back of her house where she his putting all this stuff together or she has a contract.

Savannah said...

Wink, wink is right.

It has been close to a year hasn't it?

Great points Karen.

sG said...

I just threw up in my mouth.

I read *what I thought* was the whole article and, well... I have never been a fan of Sharapova. For most of her time on tour I've had a real intense dislike of her actually. This had mellowed somewhat these past two years into dismissive indifference. Reading only a portion of that article brought the intense dislike right back. Reading it in its entirety made my stomach roil and my mouth fill with bile, so yeah, congrats, Eidenburg and the WTA! You've succeeded in making me dislike Maria even more!

What was up with the none-too-subtle digs at the Williamses?! "Yeah, well, they are more well-known in the US but it's only because they've been on tour longer and have had reasonable success but what about Korea?!" You can clearly kiss my Black *ss, sir.

That last line is particularly nauseating. No private jet to Kid's Choice for her! Oh no!!! She has "the unbelievable ability to say no"! Seriously. No matter how hard he pimped Maria throughout that interview, even he had to go into the shower and scour after saying that.

What's with the winking? She's not 21? I mean, I wouldn't be surprised. I recall a commentator recently quoting her age and I nearly did a spit-take. I was like "21?! She's only 21? No way is she just turned 21?!" I thought I was being forgetful. Sometimes I view players's ages through tour years. Is there proof she isn't? Or just innuendo?

Savannah said...

There was a mistake in the WTA Media Book that listed Maria as two years older than she is.

There's talk she's older but no proof sG.

sG said...

Ah! Okay. Well, then 21 she is! Her camp must really be concerned about her shoulder. She should definitely be concerned. It's tough healing from something like that and she left surgery on the table too long...

I DON'T miss Maria but I do miss female players who can bully themselves passed mental lapses, etc. Aside from the Williamses, there's no one else with the capability of doing so. I really don't get that. I think that's what bothers me the most about most of the WTA's top ten. If they were just middling players it'd be disappointing but not disconcerting. Some of these women, however, are technically good-to-very-good players just with mush between their ears.

Look, I love the Williams sisters and want to see them dominate. Just not like this; not over competition that can't seem to consecutively string together two emotionally sound days.

Sigh. I miss the WTA. Thank goodness the ATP is keeping me well and truly entertained but, sigh, I really miss the WTA.