Is the world ready for "Sugarpova"? It's a new brand of candy and sweets, leveraging the brand value of tennis star Maria Sharapova, expected to launch at the US Open in August.
This is just the latest commercial venture for the world's highest paid female athlete whose branding acumen seems to be as sharp as her tennis game.
The 24-year old professional tennis player is a winner in more ways than one, ranking number seven in the world's single women tennis players and having made over $24 million from June 2009 to June 2010, according to Forbes.
While Sharapova has earned her fair share from playing tennis, she has done even better from her commercial endorsements.
Her eight-year contract with Nike, under which she helps design sportswear, is reportedly worth some $70 million. But the Sharapova brand also extends to endorsement deals with Cole Haan, Sony Ericsson, Evian, Tag Heuer, Head, and Tiffany — even a dandruff shampoo, in Unilever's Clear.
She recently relaunched her website to be more sponsor-friendly. As WWD noted, "if there is an image of Sharapova wearing one of the dresses or shoes she’s designed for Nike or Cole Haan, users can click on the photo and immediately be directed to a point of purchase. 'It’s quite direct, and that’s the main thing I wanted it to be. It’s user-friendly. We didn’t want too many complicated areas of the site," Sharapova commented.
While Sharapova has had some ups and downs in tennis, including being sidelined with an injury in 2008, she's nowhere near retirement, and is currently powering her way through the French Open. As a brand, however, she has never left the public eye.
Her youth, height (6 feet 2 inches), talent, good looks and personality all contribute to a persona that has superstar written all over it. And she's downright competitive, telling the New York Times (she graced the cover of its style section), "I've been very competitive by nature from a young age, whether it was eating a bowl of pasta faster than somebody else, or always wanting to be the first one in line."
Interestingly, when Sharapova got injured, she began to consider life after tennis. Turning herself into a brand seemed to be the right thing to do. Her win at Wimbledon marked the beginning of a flurry of commercial deals Motorola, Land Rover and Canon among them. Eventually, her name started to grace products such as sunglasses, watches and jewelry, and then sportswear and fashion.
Nowadays, Sharapova's tennis outfits are coordinated with Nike so look-alikes can be sold in stores while she is wearing them at matches. But it didn't come easily. Max Eisenbud with the IMG talent agency, who manages Sharapova's career, told the New York Times that Nike needed about a year's worth of convincing that she would wear the clothing that would appear in stores. But now Sharapova has a Nike line, and that bodes well for her merchandising future.
Eisenbud is justifiably hopeful that Maria will not be just another sports celebrity. "Could she one day have a brand Maria Sharapova at Nike like Michael Jordan's?" he said to the Times. "I don't want to come across as an egomaniac. There's only one Michael Jordan. But if we did a good job with the Maria Sharapova collection, could all the young girls, in 10 years want to wear Maria Sharapova? That's what I want to find out."