Maria Sharapova didn’t have much of a week. The Russian-born tennis star on Tuesday decided not to change her last name, then a day later pulled out of the upcoming US Open in New York because of a wonky shoulder.
There isn’t much Sharapova really needs, be it in terms of name recognition or in career playing earnings, which now stand at some $27 million. If she were never to lift a racket again, she’d probably squeeze by just fine, given that her collective endeavors on and off the court grossed upward of $30 million just over the last 12 months (June-June), according to Forbes.
A portion of those earnings came from her year-old line of candy, Sugarpova, a collection of sweet treats sold in North America, Europe, and Asia and also marketed online (www.Sugarpova.com). With those goodies in her ever-expanding business portfolio, the 26-year-old Sharapova is now on the verge of slapping her lip-shaped logo on various accessories (pendants, purses, etc.) and expanding market reach next year to South America, anchoring all things Sugarpova there well ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
It was the Times of London that last Sunday broke word that Sharapova, in hopes of giving her candy brand a boost, was pondering a formal change of her last name to Sugarpova. Not forever, mind you, but just for the two-week run of the US Open. A gimmick, for sure, and a very effective one — a city that never sleeps poised for a 14-day Sugarpova high.
According to the Times, Sharapova was poised to push her name change through the court system in Florida, her home for more than 10 years, which would have entailed paperwork, fingerprints, background check, and a judge’s hearing/ruling.
Based on the Sunshine State’s onetime protracted dealings with hanging chads, it stretches credulity to think she could have achieved all that in a few days, but the 6-foot-2-inch Sharapova can be strong, loud, and persuasive. One can only imagine a sleepy-eyed judge snapping to attention on the bench under a withering attack of trademark Sharapova shrieks.
Judge: “Well, let’s see here, Miss Sharapova, you say you’d like . . .’’
Judge: “. . . a change of last name . . .’’
Sharapova: “Come on!!!’’ (fist pump)
Judge: “. . . to, where is it? . . . ah, OK . . . Sugarpova . . . Maria Sugarpova. How sweet.’’
Sharapova: “Yesssss!” (emphatic tug of visor lowered to brow).
Judge: “And so it is ruled. Please pay the court $500. And if you’ve got your favorite pocket camera handy, I’d love a shot of you holding the gavel.’’
As plotted and preposterous as the idea seems, Operation Sugarpova had a lot of media people talking, writing, tweeting, and otherwise musing for a few days. I, for one, had no idea she was so sweet on sweets until the Times piece. No doubt others knew little or nothing of Sugarpova’s confection affections. Now, the brand name is out there bigger than ever. Well played. Baby Ruth candy and Big Yaz bread sure never got such buzz.
Had George Foreman come up with this idea, the former heavyweight champ might have petitioned the court to become George Lean Mean Fat Grilling Machine. Not nearly as snappy as, say, Metta World Peace (a.k.a. Ron Artest), but Foreman’s countertop grill certainly has greater worldwide appeal and penetration, found in kitchens and bachelor pads across the continents.
Shaquille O’Neal, pitchman for Buick and the Icy Hot Patch, would be torn. Would he go with Shaq O’Buick or opt for Shaq Patch?
The same for Michael Jordan. He would have to choose between his Hanes underwear or his famous Nike sneakers. So Michael B. Briefs or Air Jordan? No man, rich or poor, ever should have to choose between his underwear and footwear.
This is a good time to remember that no one meant more to pro tennis and the financial fortunes of its players than the late Jack Kramer. Tall and skilled, much like Sharapova, “Jake’’ and his barnstorming buddies, including Bobby Riggs, turned the game from amateur to pro in the 1940s and ’50s.
“From a competitor to an administrator to a broadcaster,’’ esteemed tennis columnist Bud Collins noted upon Kramer’s death in 2009, he “was the most important figure in the history of the game.’’
Kramer never reaped millions from playing, but struck a mother lode by endorsing his own Jack Kramer autographed tennis racket that was marketed for decades by Wilson Sporting Goods. It is still widely considered the biggest-selling tennis racket of all time, with some 30 million sold from the late ’40s to early ’80s.
A Los Angeles Times story upon Kramer’s death at age 88 made note that he eventually reworked the deal with Wilson because sales reached the point where he was making more than the president of the company. A gentle and thoughtful guy, as well as an extremely shrewd businessman, Kramer assuredly would have pondered the possibilities of changing his name to Jack Racket. The racket wasn’t just synonymous with his name. It ultimately became his identity.
“We ultimately decided against it,’’ Max Eisenbud, Sharapova’s agent, told ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell, upon officially giving up the Good Ship Sugarpova on Tuesday. “At the end of the day, we would have to change all her identification. She has to travel to Japan and China . . . and it was going to be very difficult.’’
Never mind all that. How about having to explain to some of Sharapova’s other lucrative backers — such as Tag Heuer, Porsche, Evian, Samsung, Head, Canon, and Nike — why she put her own brand ahead of them? A pushback from those accounts, noting how they paid dearly to build the name she was so suddenly willing to change, probably soured the sweet idea. What’s in a name? For Sharapova, a load of dough, with or without the candy.