Have celebrity endorsements finally gone too far? Maria Sharapova’s sweet idea is smashed by tennis commentators’ boycott
But was former Wimbledon champion’s plan to call herself ‘Sugarpova’ at US Open simply a publicity stunt?
Nick Clark is the arts correspondent of The Independent. He joined the newspaper in June 2007, initially reporting on the stock markets. He has covered beats including the City, and technology, media and telecoms and made the switch to arts in December 2011. He has also contributed articles to the sports section.
Tuesday 20 August 2013
Television commentators will refuse to call Maria Sharapova by the name of her branded sweets even if she does succeed in changing her name to “Sugarpova” during the US Open, with one saying any such move would treat tennis “with contempt”.
The 26-year-old former Wimbledon champion, the highest-earning sportswoman last year, is reportedly considering changing her name to match that of her sweets business for the Grand Slam fortnight.
David Mercer, who commentates for the BBC and Eurosport, said: “I will not be saying ‘Sugarpova’. It strikes me as ludicrous if we’re getting to a situation where players change their names for two-week tournaments. It’s treating the sport with contempt.”
Barry Millns, who will commentate on the US Open for Sky, said: “I would feel uncomfortable calling her ‘Sugarpova’. Where do you draw the line? What if someone decides to call themselves ‘Barclays Bank’ for the fortnight? It’s wrong.”
He continued: “I wouldn’t have thought any broadcaster would allow their commentators to call her that. It’s blatant product placement. If this was true and she wins the title does it go down in the record books as Maria Sugarpova?”
Tennis experts suggested the talk may just be a marketing ploy for the sweets without her ever following through. Sharapova allegedly applied to the Florida Supreme Court for a “quickie” name change, according to a report in The Times, though a spokeswoman for the court replied no application had been made to them.
A spokesman for the US Tennis Association said that no formal application had been made to the body requesting such a name change for the tournament, which starts on Monday.
The report added the idea had been cooked up between the tennis player and IMG, her management company. IMG did not respond to requests for comment.
Forbes magazine revealed this month that Sharapova was the highest-earning female athlete in the world with an estimated income of $29m (£18.5m) in the year to June, boosted by endorsements by companies including Nike and Head.
The Independent tennis correspondent said he was surprised that Sharapova would consider such a marketing move. Paul Newman said: “It’s absolutely bizarre. It seems to be totally unlike Sharapova. She’s a classy individual. This, on the other hand, seems very tacky.”
The ploy to publicise the brand has already worked ahead of the event last night in New York to mark the anniversary of the sweets’ launch, however, with the story picked up around the world and shared across social networks.
Sharapova became a global star after she won Wimbledon at the age of just 17. She subsequently won each of the other Grand Slam tournaments including the US Open in 2006. The tennis star launched Sugarpova – a move away from traditionally healthy products that sports stars advertise – ahead of the US Open last year and they are now sold around the world including at Selfridges, with some of the profits going to her charitable foundation.
The sweets were created alongside Jeff Rubin, chief executive of IT’Sugar, with $500,000 (£320,000) of her own money put into the project.
The website calls the brand a “premium candy line that reflects the fun, fashionable, sweet side of international tennis sensation Maria Sharapova”. The tennis star has, the site revealed, a “surprising sweet tooth”.
The business took 18 months to put together, and the shop window during the launch read: “The No 1 women’s tennis star puts her spin on sweets, with a smashing line of gummies.”
There are 15 varieties of the sweets, which the New York Times dubbed the “Spice Girls of the candy world,” with names including “flirty”, “cheeky” and “chic”. There is, of course, a “sporty” variety in the guise of different coloured tennis balls. The bags of sweets are $5.99 each on the website.
Brand slam: Maria’s other business interests
Maria Sharapova signed a multi-year contract with the racquet and bag manufacturer in 2011, reportedly worth $2m (£1.3m) a year. It includes new racquet lines and accessories across a range of products.
The World No 3 has her own branded Nike collection, and she extended her contract with the sportswear manufacturer in 2010 for a further eight years in a deal believed to be worth $70m (£44.6m).
The luxury watch maker has used Sharapova in campaigns for over four years and she has designed a line of sunglasses for the brand.
As the mobile phone company looked to hit the Russian market, they signed up Sharapova on a three-year deal last April, to front the drive.
In April, she signed a three-year deal with luxury German car manufacturer Porsche to become the company’s “first global ambassador”.
Sharapova signed a multi-year deal with Evian in 2010 and featured in international campaigns. “I’ve been drinking their products… for years,” she said at the time.
The tennis star first signed up with Cole Haan for its sporting collection in spring 2009 and the ballerina flat shoes she designed were top sellers.
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