17th March 2016

How Brands Reacted to the Maria Sharapova Doping Scandal

Maria Sharapova has made the sporting headlines for all the wrong reasons recently as tennis’s former golden girl admitted to breaching the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) regulations, testing positive for the banned substance Meldonium, prescribed to treat heart conditions among other things.

With a string of grand slam championships to her name and a face that fit the agenda for brands globally, the Russian athlete became the highest paid sports woman in the world, taking home an estimated $30 million dollars a year. But what are the longer term consequences for the star, following her sudden fall from grace.

Her actions have already had financial implications. Nike was the first to drop Sharapova’s global sponsorship, suspending ties on the £50 million deal, watch maker Tag Heuer followed suit and then Porsche became the latest brand to ‘postpone’ Maria’s deal.

However, in a bold move, Head chose to extend their sponsorship deal after they felt she made a ‘manifest error’ by continuing to take the drug which was registered on the banned substance list in January 2016 – announcing to the world that it will be publically standing by her.

How did brands react to the news?

At a time where anti-doping is tarnishing sport, has the tennis giant Head sent out the wrong message when it comes to fair play? Andy Murray’s camp certainly thought so, and is now questioning whether players should work with brands if they have conflicting policies. But can Head afford to lose him?

On the other hand, adopting a first strike policy, Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche made their views on the athlete’s situation clear from the start – leaving little room for uncertainty for their stakeholders.

So what’s next for Sharpova? Will Evian, Avon and Tiffany stand by her? Or will Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche look to make amends following possible future success. The length of her ban and time away from the court will determine the outcome of her endorsement deals and what lies next for the tennis poster girl.

This is the biggest story of late to hit the headlines regarding a failed test – and I’m sure it won’t be the last as the battle against drug cheats continues to gather pace. Certainly something all brands which work with elite athletes need to take into consideration.

By Abby East, Consumer Account Executive