2016/06/09

Suspension Could Cost Maria Sharapova $50 Million

Tennis star Maria Sharapova was suspended from competition for two years on Wednesday by the International Tennis Federation for a failed drug test administered in January at the Australian Open. The ITF ruled the ban was from non-intentional use, as the harsher penalty could have been four years for intentional use. Sharapova, 29, announced plans to appeal the penalty instatement on her Facebook FB +0.53% page where she wrote: “I intend to stand for what I believe is right and that’s why I will fight to be back on the tennis court as soon as possible.”
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 24: Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates winning her fourth round match against Belinda Bencic of Switerland during day seven of the 2016 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 24, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova celebrates winning her fourth round match at 2016 Australian Open. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
The suspension, which is backdated to January, has massive financial implications for Sharapova, who was the world’s highest-paid female athletefor 11 straight years before Serena Williams took the crown this year. She has earned $285 million during her career and averaged $25 million in earnings from prize money, appearances and endorsements over the past seven years. The suspension could cost Sharapova $50 million in lost earnings over the next few years, on top of her climbing legal bills.

Sharapova’s on-court earnings are down significantly since she has not played since her failed test in January, but her endorsement earnings haven’t taken a big hit yet. Tag Heuer decided not to renew its agreement, which expired in December. American Express AXP +0.56% didn’t pick up the option for a second year on its deal with Sharapova that was built around the U.S. Open since there was almost no scenario of her playing at Flushing Meadow after the failed test was revealed
Nike NKE +1.06% and Porsche suspended promotional work with Sharapova, but did not terminate her deals in March. Avon, Evian and Head stuck by the tennis starlet. Sharapova earned $20 million from endorsements by our count over the last 12 months versus $23 million in the prior year, but her earnings are going to plummet over the next 12 months.

Nike is by far Sharapova’s most important partner. The brand has invested a lot in Sharapova since her 2004 Wimbledon breakthrough. The sportswear giant renewed its deal in 2010 for eight years for roughly $70 million depending on sales and her on-court performance. Sharapova gets the bulk of her Nike money at year-end. Nike will get huge reductions on its commitments this year since Sharapova will fail to play the number of required events under the deal. Other Sharapova partners will get substantial reductions as well.

The five-time Grand Slam champion has earned $37 million in prize money in her career, second highest all-time behind Williams, but she won’t see another tournament check until 2018 if the suspension is upheld. The one option open to Sharapova is playing in exhibitions around the world with appearance fees. These cash grabs generate millions annually for the sport’s top stars.

The ITF’s decision that Sharapova’s use was unintentional should help Sharapova with sponsors. The issue existing and potential new sponsors will face is how marketable Sharapova will be if she is sidelined from competing in tennis’ biggest events and appearing on TV for two years. Sponsors pay for exposure. Pending her appeal, Sharapova will be 31 when she returns to tennis, an age when most players, with a few exceptions like Williams, are eyeing retirement.

Still to be determined is the long-term damage to Sugarpova, the gummy candy brand Sharapova launched in 2012. The brand, which is 100% owned by Sharapova, has grown substantially with five million bags sold last year compared to 1.3 million in the first 12 months. Sharapova moved the brand into chocolate this year and had plans to turn it into a lifestyle brand.

Sharapova’s fans are sticking by her for the most part with a couple of chinks in the armor on her reputation. Repucom’s Celebrity DBI tracks consumer perceptions of celebrities. Sharapova’s DBI score fell only 2% after the failed test and her appeal score was unchanged. However, her endorsement score dropped 11% and her trust score dipped 10%.
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