Tennis player Maria Sharapova is about to announce a new partnership with Jeff Rubin “to develop her own brand of candy and sweets” called Sugarpova, according to Eric Wilson in a front-page piece in the Styles Section of the N.Y. TIMES. Rubin "helped create Dylan’s Candy Bar in 2001 and a chain of candy shops inside F.A.O. Schwarz stores (called F.A.O. Schweetz) in the 1990s.” His plans for Sugarpova include gumballs “shaped like tennis balls, and gummy candies will be packaged in containers shaped like tennis-ball cans.” He “hopes to have them ready in time for a rollout” at the U.S. Open in August. Sharapova is the “highest paid female athlete" in the world; Forbes estimates that she made $24.5M from June '09-June '10, about $4M “more than her nearest competitor, Serena Williams.” Sharapova last year “renewed her contract with Nike in an expanded eight-year deal that is estimated to be worth as much as $70 million, the most ever for a female athlete, including royalties from clothes she designs for Nike.” She also “designs shoes and handbags for Cole Haan and endorses luxury brands like Tiffany and Tag Heuer, and the electronics company Sony Ericsson.” Sharapova is “pushing both Nike and Cole Haan to produce more of her designs, creating the candy business and now expanding her online presence with a Facebook page with 4.3 million fans.” She noted that she has more Facebook fans "than any other female athlete.”
SPONSOR FRIENDLY: Wilson reports Sharapova read a recent USA Today article "that shocked her, about the financial problems facing former professional athletes.” She then called Max Eisenbud, her agent at IMG, "and told him to contact all her sponsors.” Their contracts “typically limited each company’s access to Ms. Sharapova to 10 or 12 days each year.” Sharapova said to Eisenbud, “I don’t care what’s in the contracts. Tell them I’ll do whatever they want, whatever they need.” She was “determined to set Brand Maria in motion well before” she retires. Wilson notes as part of her “new deal with Nike, the company last year finally began producing and selling a line based on her on-court attire, and dressing several up-and-coming players” in “Maria Sharapova looks” (N.Y. TIMES, 5/26).
Recent allegations against Lance Armstong by former teammate Tyler Hamilton on CBS’ "60 Minutes" this past weekend have marketers “wondering if Livestrong, the athlete's cancer-research foundation, will be the real victim,” according to Alexandra Bruell of AD AGE. Livestrong since its inception in ’97 has raised $400M “to support those affected by cancer through equity tied to emotion, built on product development, marketing initiatives and aggressive funding.” But Bruell wondered if Livestrong can “separate its mission and activities in the fight against cancer from the controversy surrounding its founder.” Livestrong Senior Dir of Communications Katherine McLane indicated the foundation can and insisted that “the vibe at the organization is business as usual.” Still, observers are “less optimistic.” Crisis communications firm APCO Worldwide Exec VP Kent Jarrell said Livestrong "can't take Lance out of the equation." Bruell noted that “complication ... sparks the foundation's caught-in-the-middle status and presents long-term challenge to its reputation.” The foundation “will have to prepare scenarios for a series of potential legal outcomes and continue to push its cause, which, on an emotional level, trumps Mr. Armstrong's athletic achievements.” However, "longtime marketing partners such as Nike are sticking with Livestrong” so far (ADAGE.com, 5/25).
Li Ning Sports USA's Portland staff “has shrunk by half, from about 30 employees last year to about 15,” and the state of Beijing-based parent Li Ning “appears to be in equal flux,” according to Allan Brettman of the Portland OREGONIAN. A deal with Champs Sports that “was intended to give the brand its biggest reach yet into the American retail market" has ended, and a line of running shoes designed in Portland has an uncertain future. Sales for the first two quarters at the parent company “have been disappointing.” Three of Li Ning's “top executives resigned on Tuesday,” and the stock value “has fallen more than 10 percent this week.” Despite that, Li Ning Sports USA GM Jay Li said that the company “remains committed to Portland.” The company last August announced its Champs deal, placing Cavaliers G Baron Davis’ “BD Doom” shoes and apparel “in about 70 stores, primarily on the West Coast.” Li confirmed that Li Ning products “are no longer in Champs,” but said that the Portland office and Beijing HQs “remain interested in finding other ways to attract American consumers to its basketball brand.” Brettman reports the Li Ning USA office last September also was “seeking to break into the U.S. specialty running shoe category.” Its Portland staff “designed a handful of shoes to be manufactured in China for the U.S. market.” Fit Right Northwest was the “first specialty retail store to carry the Fremont,” the company’s first running shoe for the U.S. market. But Fit Right Northwest co-Owner Robb Finegan said a Li Ning representative informed Fit Right Northwest that "everything is shutting down here in the U.S." (OREGONLIVE.com, 5/25).
Izod IndyCar Series teams are "willing to find a way to make up for cars that don't qualify" for the Indianapolis 500 since sponsors are "paying big money for an appearance in the big race," according to Kathleen McLaughlin of the INDIANAPOLIS BUSINESS JOURNAL. Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay is replacing Bruno Junqueira in A.J. Foyt Racing's No. 41 Honda for Sunday's race, and sources said that the Andretti team "paid $200,000 to $250,000 for the ride from Foyt." Former IndyCar driver Derek Daly said that DHL's "clout as a sponsor was a major factor in the deal." Daly added that as a "season-long sponsor, the global shipping company probably covers 40 percent of Hunter-Reay's program, which would have a total budget" of $7-10M. McLaughlin reported the No. 41 car "will retain Foyt's signature Coyote Red paint color and still promote Foyt sponsors ABC Supply and Alfe Heat Treating," but also will "promote DHL, Sun Drop and other Andretti sponsors." This season marks DHL's "first as an IndyCar series sponsor," and Daly said that the deal for Hunter-Reay to participate Sunday will give the company "reason to stick with Andretti next year." Daly added that he "wouldn't be surprised if the sponsors of another Andretti driver who didn't qualify, Mike Conway, ended up on the Foyt car as well." Conway's sponsors for the race were scheduled to be Hire Heroes USA and 7-Eleven. McLaughlin noted one sponsor that "needed to find a new team was Fuzzy's Vodka, which backed the car that Patrick Carpentier of Dragon Racing crashed last weekend." Fuzzy's "quickly jumped to Panther Racing driver Buddy Rice, who qualified seven." Conquest Racing driver Sebastian Saavedra did not qualify for the race after the team "drew some affiliate sponsors, including the Conrad Indianapolis, just for the 500." But Conquest driver Pippa Mann's entry Sunday "will promote the Conrad" (IBJ.com, 5/25).
CASHING IN WHILE SHE STILL CAN: Driver Danica Patrick reportedly is planning to race a full-time NASCAR schedule beginning next season, and YAHOO SPORTS' Jay Hart wrote, "If the future were up to Danica the Racer, chances are she'd stay right where she is, racing in IndyCar and focusing all her energy on the thing that matters most to her as a competitor: winning the Indianapolis 500. But Danica the brand says go south, young lady, to the land of NASCAR and those extra zeroes before the decimal point." IMG, which reps Patrick, "undoubtedly ... has made it known that the clock is ticking on her ability to command top dollar from potential sponsors" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/25).
KitchenAid, presenting sponsor of the Senior PGA Championship, unveiled this week its “Fairway Club,” a 40x60-foot interactive environment for fans where celebrity chefs will entertain while showing off the KitchenAid brand of appliances. The tournament teed off this morning in Louisville at the Valhalla Golf Club. KitchenAid, in its first year as the tournament’s sponsor, will reward golf fans with sweepstakes prizes that include a complete kitchen of KitchenAid appliances and tickets to an exclusive dinner prepared by celebrity chef Michael Symon in the Fairway Club. “Great golf and great food are a good combination,” said KitchenAid Senior Manager for Brand Experiences Deb O'Connor. “We’re connecting golf and culinary experiences in ways that golf fans haven’t experienced before.”
Brian Kingery, a music teacher from Hammond, La., has been named by 2K Sports as the winner of its second annual $1M prize for pitching the first perfect game in its "MLB 2K11" title. The prize at its inception was believed to be the largest-ever for playing a console video game. Like initial winner Wade McGilberry of Semmes, Ala., last year, Kingery this morning made a series of media appearances in N.Y., including a stop at MLB's new Fan Cave. Kingery used Phillies P Roy Halladay, cover athlete for "MLB 2K11," in the game to pitch his perfect game. But he said he is not a serious sports fan of any type, and was lured in by national TV announcements earlier this spring of the $1M prize. "I saw the commercial with my wife, and she said to me, 'Why aren't you doing this? You're good at video games,'" Kingery said. "She pretty much sent me to GameStop and from there, it was just a matter of mastering the game."
SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Bill King reports UFC has signed Edge Shave Gel "to an official-status sponsorship that kicks off in July with a national retail promotion that includes endorsement deals for five fighters." Edge already sponsors "The Ultimate Fighter" reality TV show on Spike, and UFC CMO Bryan Johnston said, "As much as we wanted a partnership relationship with Edge, the one specific thing we wanted was for them to do nationwide packaging at retail. Having our fighters out there in grocery stores, in 7-Eleven and convenience stores, that’s huge for us." The in-store promotion, which will run through Sept. 30, "will put the UFC logo on Edge packaging and fighter images on point-of-sale materials." In addition, sources said that the UFC is "closing in on a deal with a U.S. automaker" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 5/23 issue).
BREW CREW: In Milwaukee, Don Walker reports Brewers RF Ryan Braun "has taken a minority equity position in Limelite Fusion Drink, an energy drink being marketed at more than 500 retail locations around the state, including Miller Park, where it is the official energy drink of the Brewers." The product was developed by Wisconsin-based T-D Innovations. Braun also endorses Muscle Milk (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 5/26).
IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER: In Toronto, Cynthia Vukets notes American tennis player Bethanie Mattek-Sands "has taken to playing in eye black" on the court, and is wearing "stick-on strips adorned with little silver Bs" this week at the French Open. Mattek-Sands said that the eye black "helps her game, but she also doesn’t shy away from the extra attention it has gotten her this year." She said that she has had "some interest from other players who want to sample her decals" (TORONTO STAR, 5/26).