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Maria Sharapova Case Essay

Sports Marketing
-Ezra Ok
1. What were the key steps in the early stages of Maria’s career development? Yuri Sharapov first noticed his daughter had skill and took her to attend tennis clinics. It was at these clinics that Martina Navratilova, a renowned champion, observed Maria playing and commented, “She has talent”, inspiring Maria’s parents to seek a world-class coach for their daughter in the United States. Yuri and Maria arrived at IMG’s Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy where she eventually received a scholarship. She signed with Gavin Forbes, who then assigned his duties to Max Eisenbud.

Max Eisenbud made it his priority to differentiate Maria from Anna Kournikova, a similarly talented Russian tennis player with blonde hair. Sharapova signed deals with Nike and Prince rackets that were set to expire when Maria was eligible to play in the world’s best competitions. These endorsements with major brands signaled the high expectations everyone had of her.

Sharapova won a 16-and-under tournament when she was 13, generating the interest of people looking for upcoming stars. Finally, the turning point of her career came when 17 year old Sharapova entered the 2004 Wimbledon Grand Slam tournament ranked 15th and upset Lindsey Davenport as well as Serena Williams to win it all.

2. From the case and class discussion, how does the Business of Sports impact players’ careers (outside their sports activities)? Establishing the brand and image of an athlete is key in the business aspect of sports. Talent and winning are necessary in building a player’s image. In addition, the player’s personality and character are huge components. Businessmen, as well as the player himself/herself, seek to exploit the image as a marketing tool for whatever they wish to promote. Through sponsorships, endorsements and merchandising deals, both parties can reap enormous amounts of money. Endorsements can also increase the desirability of a player’s image, making more lucrative opportunities available.

It has become crucial for players to nurture their marketable images as income from salary and winnings are subject to performance whereas endorsement and merchandising income are less affected once an athlete’s brand has been established. For Sharapova, the Nike and Prince rackets endorsements helped build the hype and expectations for a star. After her win in Wimbledon, Eisenbud was able to capitalize on Sharapova transforming from the underdog to a world-class talent and obtain endorsements from companies like Motorola. A world of opportunities opened up as Sharapova’s image finally evolved into a brand that could generate money.

3. The case spends several pages on the Tennis sector of Sports. Summarize in a few paragraphs the key elements of Tennis industry. Tennis is a racquet sport which millions of people in the U.S. alone play. Tennis differs largely from other sports because it is played between two players or two teams of two players as opposed to the large teams of other major sports.

In the professional realm, the two organizations, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), run the tennis show. The most popular events organized are the Grand Slam tournaments: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. These events attract millions of tennis fans with the top tennis players around the world.

Professional tennis players in the WTA earn income through winnings at tournaments. Income could also be earned by exempt players who sign a contract promising to play x amount of tournaments throughout the year. Exempt players are determined by ranking and popularity. Rankings of players are determined by points won at tournaments, with the Grand Slam tournaments offering the most points. Points are also awarded for players who beat higher-ranked players. Exempt players are usually the ones who receive sponsorship and appearance deals.

The rest of professional players are not as fortunate. The average player receives around $100,000 a year and has to pay for travel, coaching, and support expenses on his or her own. Therefore, it is critical to win and higher one’s rank in order to receive higher compensations.

4. What part did Max Eisenbud play in the development of Maria’s career?
Eisenbud was an essential catalyst in Sharapova’s career. He was responsible for most of her endorsements deals, including deals with Nike and Prince rackets starting from when she was only 11. Not only was he a player agent, he was, as Sharapova commented, “half family, half agent.” Besides closing major deals, Eisenbud performed many other logistical duties such as securing visas for traveling, negotiating rates for accommodations, and working with the Russian federation.

5. How did IMG evolve its importance to the sports and talent business, specifically in tennis. IMG, from its initial start of McCormack providing business services to Arnold Palmer, expanded enormously to become an agency representing an extremely broad range of clients. From violinist Itzhak Perlman, to the Grammys, to Major League Baseball, there is no end to the diversity of clients IMG can claim. The tennis division of the organization, IMG Tennis, also has taken the initiative to invest in academies that spot and nurture talents from a very young age.

It was at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy where Sharapova developed her skills. IMG has applied a form of vertical integration by recruiting and training future superstars from a young age, then providing agents who help market and generate money off their talent throughout their career. IMG Tennis, is also more involved in professional tennis events than any other company. The amount of dedication to the tennis industry properly reflects how the company has devoted to becoming a crucial part of the talent business.

6. Maria’s Future – Use the exhibits and case discussion to analyze the tennis star’s next major steps. Is this a good direction, are there precedents for this process, or are we breaking new ground? Maria is still a solid contender in tennis, and holds a reputable portfolio of endorsements. With an extremely skilled agent, Max Eisenbud (who managed to repeat his success with tennis star Li Na), Sharapova is continuing on an extremely well managed and profitable path. Having only large corporate deals and developing her own brands, such as her clothing line, further build Sharapova’s brand. Other ventures such as the candy company Sugarpova, also provide interesting and innovative opportunities for growth (Lattman).

7. Which option would you choose to round out her portfolio of endorsements and Why? Sharapova’s brand is associated with many high-end products: Tag Heuer, Tiffany, as well as her own line of tennis apparel, the Nike Maria Sharapova Collection (Wilson). Immediately, I would throw out the furniture company that seems largely irrelevant. Out of all the “luxury” brands, the personal fragrance deal seems most profitable in both monetary and brand-building terms. Sharapova would have her own high-end cosmetic product which would only solidify her reputation for luxury and beauty.

Works Cited

Lattman, Peter. “BUILDING A BRAND; Dealmaker for the Shotmakers.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 27 Aug. 2012. Web. 23 Oct. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/27/sports/tennis/max-eisenbud-maria-sharapovas-agent-builds-her-brand.html?pagewanted=all>.

Wilson, Eric. “Maria Sharapova Extends Her Reach.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 26 May 2011. Web. 21 Oct. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/26/fashion/maria-sharapovas-campaign-to-establish-herself-as-a-brand.html?pagewanted=all>.

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