Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 12th 2016 Contents A49
Saturday, March 12, 2016 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
LONDON---So far, Maria Sharapova s
attempts to limit the damage from her
doping revelation have been well-
judged, branding and crisis managers
say. But whether she can hold onto
her financial and sporting clout will
ultimately depend on the length of
any ban she is handed.
The five-time Grand Slam champion
has apparently been upfront and con-
trite in the scandal that erupted Mon-
day, when she revealed she had failed
a drug test for meldonium, which had
just been banned by authorities. She
admitted taking the drug for ten years
for medical reasons. No dishonesty was
involved, Sharapova says, she had mere-
ly neglected to click on an updated list
of banned drugs.
The scandal threatens to undo years
of meticulous brand building that have
seen Sharapova become one of the most
commercially successful female athletes
ever. Major sponsors Nike, Tag Heuer
and Porsche have suspended their deals
with the 28-year-old Russian. One,
though, hasn t: racket manufacturer
Head, which publicly backed her and
even extended her contract.
"Head clearly buys her claim that
this was just an honest mistake," said
Michael Gordon, CEO of corporate and
crisis communications firm Group Gor-
don. "Are they trying to read the tea
leaves in terms of how severe her pun-
ishment will be? Sure. But as long as
no shocking revelations emerge that
challenge the truth of her statements
thus far, all signs point to a lenient
Sharapova is already provisionally
banned from tennis and numerous ten-
nis players, including two-time Grand
Slam champion and fellow Head rack-
et-user Andy Murray, say she has to
accept her punishment. Murray also
queried Head s response.
She could potentially face a four-
year ban, according to former World
Anti-Doping Agency president Dick
Pound, which would to all intents and
purposes spell the end of her career at
the top of the women s game---and seri-
ously damage the worth of her hard-
Pound has said Sharapova was guilty
of "willful negligence" for using mel-
donium. Other questions have been
raised to, including why Sharapova was
taking meldonium in the first place,
which was banned by WADA because
it aids oxygen uptake and endurance.
A lenient punishment from the Inter-
national Tennis Federation, say a year
or less, would give some validation to
Sharapova s claim that her mistake,
though big, was honest.
It would last as long as some injuries,
which is something Sharapova has
struggled with through her career. A
short ban would potentially allow
brands to ride out the storm and forgive
her. And if it s a short ban, then Shara-
pova, who has won all four Grand Slam
titles, won t need to do much to rebuild
"Sharapova s commercial worth
would hinge significantly on the length
of a ban should there be one," said Jon
Stainer, managing director of the UK
and Ireland operations of sports and
entertainment sponsorship consultants
"At 28, she still has many years of
playing at the top of the game---Serena
Williams for example is six years Shara-
pova s senior---but the longer it would
take to return to the game, the less
time she would have to rebuild that
image she s done so well to build," he
Sharapova, according to Repucom
research, is the most-marketable female
athlete in the world, ranking above the
likes of her tennis peer Serena Williams
and skier Lindsey Vonn. Of the 76 per
cent of people that know of her globally,
74 per cent say they like the tennis ace
and 75 per cent say they find her aspi-
rational, Repucom s Stainer said.
Those positive numbers tell the story
of Sharapova s value to sponsors and
why no sponsor has yet ditched her
for good. Sharapova is one of the top
female players of her generation, with
35 career singles titles and over $36
million in career earnings.
Those earnings, however, are thought
to be dwarfed by what she gets from
her endorsements and business ven-
tures, like her candy brand Sugarpova.
Sportswear giant Nike, Swiss watch
brand Tag Heuer and German luxury
car company Porsche have distanced
themselves from Sharapova.
But, crucially, they all left the door
ajar for a return. Nike, for one, said, it
had "decided to suspend our relation-
ship with Maria while the investigation
continues" but that it "will continue
to monitor the situation."
Austria-based Head has taken a dif-
ferent approach and has backed Shara-
pova in light of her pro-active response.
The stakes for Head, though, are dif-
ferent to those of Nike, which has many
more brand ambassadors and across a
wider array of sports.
"Head is proud to stand behind
Maria, now and into the future and we
intend to extend her contract," the com-
pany said in a statement Thursday.
"We look forward to working with
her and to announcing new sponsor-
ships in the weeks and months ahead."
Though acknowledging that Head
has much more at stake given its busi-
ness model is so focused on tennis,
crisis manager Gordon said the com-
pany is betting that fans will forgive
"Everyone loves a comeback story,"
How this all pans out will depend
on what happens next and what, if
anything else, emerges.
Nigel Currie, a British-based spon-
sorship and PR consultant, said her
return to the high financial grounds
she s occupied since she won Wim-
bledon as a 17-year-old in 2004 will
"depend on the length of the ban" and
that anything in excess of a couple of
years will be "very hard" as the game
would have moved.
"But if it s a slap on the wrist, say
a six-month bank, it s game-on again,"
she said. (AP)
Maria Sharapova of Russia
celebrates after defeating
Belinda Bencic of
Switzerland in their fourth
round match at the
Australian Open tennis
championships in Melbourne,
Australia, a few weeks ago.
Length of tennis ban is key
in Sharapova's brand value
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