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Published March 8, 2010
As Max Eisenbud tells it, his IQ took a dramatic leap forward in a matter of hours. On the morning of July 3, 2004, he now says tongue-in-cheek, he called himself an idiot. By that afternoon, he was a genius.
That’s the day his then largely unheralded client, Maria Sharapova, shocked the world and won Wimbledon at the age of 17. The victory unleashed a marketing blitz that had never been seen before in professional sports, making Sharapova far and away the top-paid female endorser in history.
“2004 changed my life,” Eisenbud said. “The year she won Wimbledon, I had my flight booked to leave the Tuesday of the second week.
“She won Wimbledon and this unbelievable thing that she worked her whole life for, and me as her manager a part of it, it was an amazing feeling.”
A graduate of Purdue, where he was on the tennis team, Eisenbud got his start in the business side of the sport by putting together a charity event for ATP player Justin Gimelstob, whom he grew up with in New Jersey. Eisenbud flooded IMG with letters trying to get a job there, and was rewarded with a new position handling young clients at the Bollettieri Academy.
The young Sharapova and her dad had recently arrived at the academy, and Eisenbud gained their confidence. When she went on tour, Sharapova and her father wanted Eisenbud with them.
Eisenbud credits the IMG machine for making Sharapova the nearly $30 million-a-year woman, but good agents are only as good as the trust their clients have in them. It was Eisenbud’s idea that Nike expand its ties with Sharapova to the company’s Cole Haan unit, and he is constantly pressuring her sponsors to activate around her.
Now Eisenbud is shepherding projects that he hopes will see Sharapova through past the end of her playing career. She is getting into TV, and Eisenbud is pitching a permanent Sharapova Nike line that other players will one day wear, the way some NBA players today wear the Jordan brand.