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