| Maria Sharapova: Love game
London, June 18: Maria Sharapova walked on to the courts at Wimbledon last year a virtual unknown. She went on to take the tournament by storm.
This year the young Russian with the movie star good looks returns as the reigning champion, millions of pounds richer and with a level of sponsorship to make her the face of the centre court.
She will be the first major player to have her image on the tag of every Wimbledon-branded tennis racquet and sports bag sold.
As a rule, the All England Club’s marketing team avoids endorsing individual players for the sake of equity. However, the club has a deal with Prince tennis racquets, which in turn sponsors the 18-year-old player.
And the money men at Wimbledon are delighted to be associated with the charismatic Russian with the lethal ground strokes. “Maria Sharapova carries dramatic looks and fantastic tennis ability,” said Robert McCowen, the marketing director of the All England Club. “She has captured people’s imagination.
“We are proud that she has become what she has on the back of winning Wimbledon. That increases the value of the Wimbledon crown but not only in prize money and commercial spin-offs.”
Though Sharapova has earned '1.8 million in prize money since lifting the Wimbledon trophy and is second in the world rankings, the real money is in sponsorship. She is the face of Colgate-Palmolive, Motorola and Canon, to name but a few.
The Motorola deal came about after she struggled to get through to her mother on her mobile phone when she won last year’s final, as the All England Club officials waited to present the trophy.
She has even created her own brand of perfume to be launched in the autumn.
Her rapid rise to the top comes as merchandising intennis becomes global.
McCowen expects to sell '4 million of branded clothing, sports gear and souvenirs in the seven shops at the ground. Three new shops have opened since last year.
Sales at the ground represent only 20 per cent of the worldwide Wimbledon merchandising. The biggest markets are through licensing products in North America and Southeast Asia.