What Impact Will the Loss of Major Sponsors Have on Maria Sharapova's Career?

Discussion started by Christian Radnedge , on Tuesday, 08 March 2016 12:32


Nike, Tag Heuer and Porshe have all suspended their ties with Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova after she admitted to failing a drug test at the Australian Open in January.

Sharapova has been the highest-paid female athlete for the past 11 years, but the loss of these sponsors, especially Nike, will have a detrimental effect on her financially.

What impact will this revelation have on her career moving forward from a marketing standpoint?

Can she rebuild her career and be as marketable as she has been?

Will more sponsors ultimately follow suit?

Latest Discussion
Misha Sher
While I can understand why various sponsors have distanced themselves or cut ties with Maria Sharapova, I don’t believe that it will be difficult for her to rebuild her career. The reason being is that the substance in question was taken for genuine reasons, which Sharapova has not hidden.

It’s a substance used by many people in general population in Russia to treat lack of blood flow to parts of the body, which is not uncommon. I may be giving her the benefit of the doubt, but given that this substance wasn’t on the banned list until earlier this year tells me that Sharapova did not engage in an illegal activity that undermined the integrity of the sport.

Brands need to be seen as taking a zero-tolerence approach to doping, so I understand the reaction. However, Sharapova has built up a very strong personal brand that is not linked to her performances on the tennis court. As such, I can see her rebuilding with different type brands that are more in line with her career as a model.

It’s important to note that my opinion is based on the information that is currently available so I’m prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt.
440 days ago
Sophie Morris
So, as we expected, this story starts to unravel. The pharmaceutical company producing the drug says it should only be taken for 4-6 weeks, not 10 years. Further comments from medics are piecing together a picture that this is not just bad management or a missed memo; this is intentionally taking performance enhancing substances for 10 years.

Just because she has been clever and 'owned' the release of this information shouldn't change a sponsor's stance. Nike, Tag and Porsche have walked away, whereas at the time of writing Evian are still monitoring the situation. Ultimately, I don't believe they have a choice but to end their association with her, if they want to uphold their own integrity.

Here's our update - http://bit.ly/1W8a9pI
440 days ago
Sophie Morris
I agree with Rupert that this was handled very well by Sharapova's team. Controlling the story will have gone a long way in minimising the damage, but of course damage has still been done, both to her reputation and commercial value.

As Rupert and Nigel both remark, the role of the sponsor has changed dramatically in this sort of crisis situation. Sponsors need to have a very clear rule for what is acceptable or not and a very clear course of action for each possible situation, so that they can make these quick decisions.

Was she technically cheating beforehand if the drug wasn't banned? It doesn't really matter. Her team should know what she can and cannot take and should have complied fully. Taking something that is so clearly performance enhancing is dubious at best, and risking her reputation and sporting future is terrible management.

If they haven't already, sponsors should review agreements with the properties they're involved in and ensure they have clear 'get out' clauses for any unacceptable behaviour. These conversations should be had upfront of course, so that all parties understand what's not acceptable and what the consequences will be, and that goes both ways.

Sponsors should research their ambassadors thoroughly and look for fit with brand values, not just breadth of appeal. Getting buy in from the athlete to the company will also give them a responsibility for the brand and a greater need to protect it.

I'm sure the story will continue to evolve, but if anyone can make a come back from this it's probably Sharapova. Unless there's a turnaround to the story, I expect other sponsors to follow Nike's lead but will watch with interest to see if and when they start coming back.
441 days ago
Rupert Pratt
Firstly the announcement was a master class in crisis management – She announced the story, therefore was able to control it. In a very drab hotel conference room (terrible carpet), very little make up, dressed plainly and in black (little too far). Was it a coincidence that it was done on the same day Peyton Manning announced his retirement?

Secondly and most importantly the speed at which Nike suspended their contract (clever as it gives them the option to come back subject to how the story unfolds) and then the swift follow up from Tag Heuer and Porsche. This signals a marked change to me on how sponsors approach to issues or disrepute. For a long time the standard approach to crisis communications was to say nothing, don’t get dragged into the story and disappear into the background. Think FIFA, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods or how Nike has continue to endorse track and field athletes with doping history. No longer the case in the post FIFA and IAAF / Nestle era. An Era of corporate governance and social media.

Thirdly, as I have said before, we are entering a zero tolerance era and quite rightly so. A new line has been drawn and one which will help clean up sport.

Lastly, I’m not sure this story is going to go away unless it really can be proven. The medical history? Surely her management must have known what banned substances were coming in? She could have stopped taking it 31st Dec 2015 when it was banned. Why did Tag Heuer, who’s contract ended on 31st Dec 2015 either renew or not renew? Was this a story in the making before she was tested in January or did they know before today?
441 days ago
Steven Falk

From a marketing and sponsorship perspective Maria Sharapova is finished. No brand with any shred of integrity would willingly wish to be associated with an athlete who by her own admission, has been taking a performance enhancing drug for the past ten years. Her argument that she has taken meldonium prophylactically to guard against a supposed heart condition looks dubious for a world class athlete, particularly in the light of the rather handy side effects of the drug described in one advert as "improving mental focus and concentration, reducing fatigue, enhancing athletic performance and increasing oxygen delivery”.

While it is hard not to admire Sharapova for facing up to the world’s media in person and admitting her guilt, it is notable that her apology is for failing a single drug test and not for cheating in every tournament she has competed in over the last ten years. It may be argued that the drug in question was only added to WADA’s list of banned performance enhancing substances recently. This begs the question as to why a top class athlete felt it necessary to take such a substance whether it be categorised as legal or not. Cheating is cheating by any definition.

Given her talent and undoubted strength of character, there is little doubt Sharapova could make a comeback to the sport once her ban is served. However, as a commercial proposition, her brand image will remain toxic.
441 days ago
Nigel Currie
This is massive for her. She has been a one woman marketing machine for the past decade. There are very few female athletes who are recognised in every country but she is one of them which makes her very attractive to global brands. The fact that Nike has pulled out is very significant. We live in a very corporately socially responsible world and big brands are paranoid about their image.

A few years ago sponsors would have said and done nothing and let the story die down. Instead Nike has fanned the flames. Nike are closer to the sport than other more traditional sponsors so their decision to exit is particularly significant. Other sponsors will be considering their position and will probably react as the story rumbles on as it surely will.
441 days ago
superload.me filesmonster