Length of ten­nis ban is key in Shara­pova's brand value

The Pak Banker - - MARKETS/SPORTS -

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 con­trite in the scan­dal that erupted Mon­day, when she re­vealed she had failed a drug test for mel­do­nium, which had just been banned by au­thor­i­ties be­cause it aids oxy­gen up­take and en­durance. She ad­mit­ted tak­ing the drug for ten years for med­i­cal rea­sons. No dis­hon­esty was in­volved, Shara­pova says, she had merely 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. The Aus­tria-based com­pany's CEO Jo­han Eliasch even ques­tioned WADA's de­ci­sion to add mel­do­nium to its banned sub­stances list and said the anti-dop­ing body should have im­posed a "dosage lim­i­ta­tion" in­stead. "Head clearly buys her claim that this was just an hon­est mis­take," said Michael Gor­don, CEO of cor­po­rate and cri­sis com­mu­ni­ca­tions firm Group Gor­don. "Are they try­ing to read the tea leaves in terms of how se­vere her pun­ish­ment 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 pun­ish­ment." Nu­mer­ous ten­nis play­ers, in­clud­ing twotime Grand Slam cham­pion and fel­low Head racket-user Andy Mur­ray, say she has to ac­cept her pun­ish­ment. Mur­ray has also de­scribed Head's re­sponse as a "strange stance."

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