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Sharapova & Ivanovic: The Burden of Being a Brand.

With her first round loss to Maria Kirilenko at the Australian Open, Maria Sharapova’s comeback is still slowly getting back on track in 2010. Though in her press conference Sharapova confidently said “I’ll
be back on a second Saturday. You’ll see.”, her “second career” is not just about hitting tennis balls.

With her reported new deal with Nike worth $70 million dollars over eight years, Sharapova is still the highest paid female athlete. With her new fashion line, Sharapova emerges as a “brand” that will remain in the sports apparel and maybe even the fashion world long after she retires from the game.

The issue remains whether Sharapova, who is playing this week in Memphis, can sustain her tennis career long enough to challenge the records set by Justine Henin and Serena Williams. Or will the demands of being a brand prove too distracting for Sharapova?

Another top player attempting to turn herself into a brand is Ana Ivanovic. Despite her French Open title and brief stint at No. 1, Ivanovic’s recent on-court struggles, including pulling out of this
week’s event in Dubai, raises questions on how long she will remain in the game. Despite this, adidas recently signed the Serb to a lifetime deal that will extend beyond her playing career and, hopefully, extend her “Club Ana” brand as well.

Most of the top players have clothing deals and other endorsements. Venus and Serena Williams even design their own clothing lines and have other ventures, including being minority owners of the Miami Dolphins. But Sharapova and Ivanovic are at a point in their careers where they are becoming more known for their endorsements than their tennis. Does their tennis suffer because of the time commitments they must make to sustain their brands? Maybe. Just today Sharapova said she could not commit to Fed Cup because of her schedule, according to Matt Cronin. Read into that what you will.

Both Ivanovic and Sharapova are still in their early twenties, so their chances at Grand Slam success is still high. But if Ivanovic doesn’t win another Slam, it won’t be as damaging to her status as it
would Sharapova, who despite winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, would still be looked upon as an underachiever considering she is the better player.

I don’t see Ivanovic, despite being a darling of Sports Illustrated, becoming a huge brand unless she turns her game around and wins more titles. Sharapova’s brand is assured so long as she can return to her winning form and get more press about her play than what she is wearing. Remember, in fashion, your dress shouldn’t take the spotlight away from you.

(This article originally appeared on

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Comment by Tennis Fool on April 9, 2010 at 11:40am
Love all the comments so far and I'm glad everyone enjoyed the article. Why brands pick or don't pick certain players can be about timing, company politics and who's hot on the court. I don't know why Bartoli isn't signed to Lacoste like most of the French Federation but I'm sure her dad and his "odd" strategies have something to do with it. Roddick is signed with Lacoste because, after his Open win in '03, he and his agent Donald Dell wanted a better deal with his then sponsor Reebok. Reebok declined, not because of Roddick as a player, but because they were in the process of being sold to adidas at the time and didn't want to risk the deal because signing Roddick would have been too expensive for their balance sheet. At the same time, Lacoste was re-emerging as a brand and wanted a U.S. presence/face so a deal was made with Roddick.

I recently interviewed Dell about his experiences making deals for tennis players. You can check it out here.
Comment by LuvTennis on April 9, 2010 at 10:24am
You have a point, Sharapovanovic about the Slam; and I almost buy that until I started doing some digging about Nike sponsorship of other players that have not won a slam. One example is Na Li (CHN), which of course has not won a slam, had a lower career-high ranked of 10 (vs Bartoli's 9), and has a lower number of titles won than Bartoli (2 vs 5), etc. And guess what, Na Li has clothing sponsorship from Nike.

I think the father angle might have some truth. Na Li, I think is much more 'low profile' in that sense - more sponsor-material in a way. Afterall, it's all about business. Capitalism at its best. If the marketing folks don't think a player has potential to sway general public to buy more of their brand, heck, why sponsor the player.

What I do find interesting (though not surprising, at least for me) is how a country's top player(s) are often not sponsored by the country's top brand. Roddick and Nike? Bartoli and Lacoste? Again, this is not surprising - it's all about business. Nike, being the mega-brand with gazillion dough can (and of course 'does') gets the best player in the world like Federer; and heck with all the extra cash, might as well get the 2nd best player in the world, Nadal.

If my thoughts count at all as representative of 'vox populi', I agree that Federer and Nadal are more likely to sway buyers to buy clothing from the sponsor than Bartoli does - even if she were to win a slam. Hmm, maybe it's really that father angle.
Comment by Sharapovanovic on April 9, 2010 at 1:44am
Once Bartoli wins a Slam, she will have the right to complain about how major sponsors ignore her because of her looks. Until then, she should focus on winning the aforementioned Slam. I am surprised that Lacoste doesn't outfit her, though; perhaps it could be a product of the friction between her father and the French tennis federation?

Davydenko switched from Prince to Dunlop.
Comment by Mark / The Mayor on April 8, 2010 at 4:21pm
Ouch Katie and CoachV - tell us what you really think! ;-)
The difficulty Bartoli has finding a sponsor is the same that Davydenko had on the men's side. But I heard that after Davy's break-thru in the Masters Championships in London, and his fun interviews, he now has a new deal with someone.... forgetting the brand right now. But Bartoli just needs to step up, win some matches and drop a few jokes. whaaalaaa!
Comment by Katie on April 8, 2010 at 3:05pm
Hi, I'm Maria Sharapova and I'm a fading tennis star. This is my last desperate attempt for attention blah blah blah...

Come on, it's a tennis court, not a catwalk. Nobody cares what you're wearing. People just want you to win (or lose). Can you imagine Roddick talking about the color and design of his polo shirt for five minutes? I bet he would be glad to do it... just for the laughs.
Oh yeah, and by the way, this is one ugly dress. I wonder why they decided to choose the ugliest shade of green in the world. :)
Comment by CoachV - William Vazquez on April 7, 2010 at 5:42am
I hate this girl. She cheats often, even cheated at the US open she won in 2005. She is a baby and a twit. She talks like her opinion is worth something and she knows how to design clothing... using we decided as if she has a design standpoint. What it is, is this: I like it I dont like it me me me. Whaaaa. who cares about the dam dress I can wear a dress too but can I win a tournament. well the real question is when is she going to get down to business of tennis. this video was edited and I would hate to see her talk about a roman toga that has been siting in green poo. and even more crazy is that they spent so much money and peoples time on this. I hope I never meet her. Its easy being mean online.
Comment by LuvTennis on April 7, 2010 at 1:14am
This "brand talk" reminds me of recent comments by Marion Bartoli. Despite her current rank of #12, she is unable to find a clothing sponsor. For those that didn't catch her comment, she basically said that sponsors likes their stars to be blond and thin. While there might be some truth to her comments, it's probably not entirely true. This is a hard subject to take sides. On one hand a sponsor needs to ensure their money is well spent to marketable stars that will sell or represent their products. On the other hand, one would think that achievements deserve some credits/considerations with regards to sponsorship.

How about Lacoste step up and sponsor their own France star?

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