Monday, January 18, 2010

Did Nike pour $75 million down the drain?

One of the interesting outcomes of the public dismantling of Tiger Woods is the unprecedented glimpse that we have been afforded into the world of corporate sponsorship. Tiger was worth an immeasurable fortune paid for by the likes of AT&T, Gatorade, Tag Heuer, Nike, and Gillette, to name just a few. He was deep in the pockets of a number of corporate giants that used his image to help sell their products. His public destruction has raised interesting questions about how much his sponsors knew or cared not to know about his secret player lifestyle, as long as he kept bringing the bread.

But his demise has raised questions about how corporations go about selecting the individuals in whom they invest. Certainly Tiger’s accomplishments as the best golfer in the world made him a no-brainer of a choice for sponsorship. But his personal life has forced some corporations into taking what amounts to a moral stance, by canceling his contracts. Indeed, many high-paying contracts often contain moral clauses allowing  corporations to recoup some of their monies if their investee is caught with his pants on the ground.

When I read that Nike had elected to invest 75 million dollars in Maria Sharapova, I did not seriously question the moral aspect. Other than past allegations of illegal coaching and the early lies about surviving Chernobyl, thus far Maria’s life has remained fairly scandal-free. And frankly, there is a lot of research showing that when it comes to moral concerns, women are a far safer investment than men any day. And we have a lot of buying power too. Remember the film “What women want?”. That was its basic premise.

But is Maria worthy of such a huge investment? There was a time when I would not even had asked that question because of course she was. She still is a fearless competitor who knows how to just go brave. I love the fact that she never backs down from a fight and never gives up a battle. This is one chick who fights to the finish. But with a shoulder that still seems dodgy, a serving motion that remains confused, and no Slam wins since Australian Open 2008 (before that, Wimbledon 2004), she is the last person I would have expected to attract such a massive investment.

This is my way of saying that I don’t understand the corporate mind. In the same way that I do not understand how corporations could have miscalculated so badly on the Tiger Woods brand, I do not get why Nike thinks that today’s Sharapova is worth $75 million. And if you watched her match against Kirilenko yesterday, you saw everything that is currently wrong with Sharapova.

For a start, she double-faulted 11 times. She placed only 61% of her first serves. And she committed 77 unforced errors. 77!!! The match lasted almost 3.5 hours before the spirited and equally fearless Maria Kirilenko, a fellow Russian, ejected Sharapova in the first round of the 2010 Australian Open. The shame. The horror. The head-scratching.

I wonder what Nike is thinking right about now. Is the person who sold them on this deal going to be brought to the carpet? And did you see Maria's box yesterday? Actually it was practically empty - her coach, Michael Joyce (whose courtside coaching I've discussed before), and her agent. There was no sign of Yuri Sharapov. I almost found myself missing the days when he would be the only one in his daughter’s box, come rain or shine. I can’t remember the last time I saw him. Has Sharapova become just a piece of property now owned by folks with deep pockets. And does she understand that all investments are expected to produce returns?

Sharapova elected once again not to play any warm-up tournaments, going instead for high-paying exhibition matches. You already know how I feel about those. These typically playful events are no substitute for proper match play. And serious match play (as opposed to “hit and giggle tennis” to quote Karen the commenter), is requisite preparation for any Slam. As far as I am concerned, Sharapova came to Australia under-prepared and this is why she was booted out. This is not the behavior I would have expected of a $75 million  investment.

Don’t get me wrong. I am happy as heck for tennis that one of our own got this kind of dough. Until now, the William sisters have been among the highest paid for their endorsement deals. But at 6’ 2” (Pam Shriver thinks she’s closer to 6’ 3”), blonde, skinny, and allegedly fashion-forward (I don't see it), Sharapova has the look that sells things. She is also clearly an astute business-woman, and has made herself an international brand. But is she still capable of delivering the goods, or did Nike just pour 75 million dollars down the drain? Time will tell.


Karen said...

Just so you know you have an error in your post. Sharapova's last Grand Slam win was actually the AO08, since then she has not won a tournament outright, save and except for the walkover that she got from Jankovic at the Tokyo Open. What I found disturbing about the whole match was just the lack of motivation in her demeanour on court. It was like she did not care. In addition, when you as a 22 year old professional has to have someone tell you to eat (as Michael Joyce did after she won the second set), then it tells me that you are not as mentally tough as everyone would have us think. Yuri I think has retired. The fact that he is no longer at her matches tells us that this portion of her career is not as important as the family has what it needs. Michael Joyce is now charged with managing the portion of her career that is not really important, i.e. the tennis. What galls me more than anything is the pass that she seems to be getting from the media. All you can hear is the shoulder injury. Pam was the only one who was of the view that she needed to have played a warm up tournament instead of the hit and giggle tennis.
On another note, when is Enberg going to retire? The fellow makes the most inane comments during matches that it is beginning to weigh on my nerves. Enough with the statistics already. This is not a football match. Everytime he trots out a statistic I have this vision in my head of some lackey handing him little bits of paper with all these stats of players on it and he then proceeds to read them.

tennischick said...

thanks for catching that. i actually meant to post both Wimby 04 and AO 08 to show that her track record is not one that i would have expected to attract this kind of investment. yes tennis is clearly just the means to an end, the end being to become filthy filthy rich. she's living the American dream while remaining a Russian citizen. go figure.

almost all of the commentators annoy me. i can barely listen to the Tennis Channel bec of Corina Moriaru. ugh. i have a half-written piece about why so many of them suck. i'll finish it and upload it one of these days. lol

Karen said...

you mean "Corina, my life sucks because of the WS and their part time play Moriau". I have never heard such a bitter, bitter woman in my life. I just cannot stand to listen to her. Her insights into tennis would be so much better if she put her bias aside. Another one I cannot stand to listen to is Katrina Adams. Talk about envy

tennischick said...

yes Corina does come across as envious and bitter. and yes her commentary is very biased. agree also that Katrina sucks. but don't you dare say anything against Mary Carillo. i love her candor and i love the way she is able to crack herself up.

thanks for this exchange. i'm going to get around to writing that piece soon.

happygeek said...

I'm surprised there wasn't a small sub-article about playing a match wearing an evening gown. ;-)

happygeek said...

"But his personal life has forced some corporations into taking what amounts to a moral stance, by canceling his contracts."

They do it for the impression it gives, big corporations have no real high morals really, which is probably why they get so hugely successful in the first place.


"Indeed, many high-paying contracts often contain moral clauses allowing corporations to recoup some of their monies if their investee is caught with his pants on the ground."

The operative word is "caught"!

tennischick said...

hey Chica:
how you been?

Maria's outfit was the WORST. i know that the top layer was light and gossamer, but who the heck wears two layers in the stifling heat of Australia? and the color coordination was awful. i wish they would give up on her as a fashionista. she has no sense of style whatever.

agree on the soulless corporations. my personal view that a lot of folks knew that Tiger was a Ho but as long as it stayed undercover and he kept making bank, it was all good.

happygeek said...

yep. they know what's going on, but as long as the dough keeps coming in, they're happy. then if it gets out they start pretending they have standards.

LOL @ the outfit. that was sooo out-of-place on a tennis court.

The Fan Child said...

I think you are right - playing a real tournament would have helped her. But nothing has come easy for Maria since her return, even at Roland Garros and the U.S. Open when she had time to "play her way into" a Slam.

She's feisty when she's on the court but how hard is she working off the court?

tennischick said...

hey Fan Child:
feisty is the perfect word to describe Maria. but that is not good enough for a $75. mil investment. feisty is my grandmother after she's had her Sunday afternoon nip of gin. i expect more from a top tennis player.

thanks for visiting my site and for all your comments. :-)

The Couch Gymnast said...

When the match against Kirilenko ended, I texted my friend Sha to say 'that's what you get for playing in yr nightgown' just as someone else texted me saying, "that's what you get for dressing in a hippie nightie" ! Apparently we were all concerned over the most important downfall of Masha's play!

Anonymous said...

Do you remember that What Women Want was a giant Nike advertisement???