Earlier this week it was announced that tennis superstar, Maria Sharapova, would be banned from tennis for two years after being tested positive for a banned substance, meldonium, at the Australian Open in January this year.
According to Forbes, Sharapova’s career earnings exceed $20m, the majority of which are from endorsements. So where does this leave her? Interestingly, many brands are sticking by the star. On Wednesday, Nike lifted the suspension it had placed on its relationship citing ‘Maria has always made her positon clear, has apologised for her mistake and is now appealing the length of the ban.’ Whilst Evian said it had ‘decided to maintain its long-lasting relationship with the champion.’
On the flip side however, beauty brand, Avon, and watch maker, Tag Heuer, have parted ways with the tennis superstar. So what should brands be doing? Many PR professionals seem to be of the opinion that they should be adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach. And with Sharapova challenging the ban she could very well be back on court soon. But I’m sceptical.
As a tennis player and an avid fan of the sport my loyalties are split. On the one side you’ve got one of the best players of the modern era claiming she made a mistake. And as an aside, being a PR professional myself, I can only commend Sharapova’s PR and Crisis Management team who executed a blinder with the now infamous press conference back in March.
However, in this case my head rules my heart. She’s a professional and a role model to kids all around the world. She should be on top of what she can or can’t take, or least her army of support should be. Whilst she might have made a mistake, ultimately she needs to pay the price. And if brands continue to support her it will only encourage others to take a risk. Unfortunately, cases like this are not uncommon and with the Olympics just around the corner athletes need to take note.
My gut says we’ve seen the last of Sharapova on court. But only time will tell if this incident will have a lasting effect on the Sharapova brand off court.
By Sarah Ramamurthy, Senior Account Manager