Avon to part with Maria Sharapova as the face of Luck perfume

The beauty company contended Wednesday that its decision to end its relationship with the tennis star had nothing to do with her two-year suspension from professional tennis.

NEW YORK: Avon is dropping Maria Sharapova as the face of its Luck perfume.

The beauty products company, however, said Wednesday that its decision had nothing to do with Sharapova’s two-year ban by the International Tennis Federation after testing positive early this year for a performance-enhancing drug. The ban was announced earlier in the day.

Avon signed Sharapova in 2014 to be the face of the fragrance.

"Avon’s relationship with Maria Sharapova was a limited engagement that focused on one of our fragrances," said Lindsay Fox, Avon’s senior manager of corporate communications, via email. "The engagement is set to expire, and we had not planned to extend this relationship regardless of the current situation."

The end of the engagement will be phased across markets over the forthcoming months and will be complete by the end of the calendar year. Fox declined to comment on who the next face of Luck will be.

The International Tennis Federation announced Sharapova’s two-year suspension on Wednesday morning, explaining that the independent tribunal that heard her case in May determined her suspension should be back-dated to January, due to her "prompt admission of her violation."

Sharapova tested positive for the banned substance meldonium at the Australian Open in January. In March, she said at a press conference that she had failed the drug test as a result of the drug, which she had been taking on the advice of a doctor since 2006. The drug was recently added to the sport’s list of banned substances.

In a statement on her Facebook page on Wednesday, Sharapova said she would appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension," she wrote. "The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years."

Following Sharapova’s admission in March that she tested positive for a banned drug, Avon had "no comment" on the matter. That same month, Nike and Porsche suspended their relationships with Sharapova, while Tag Heuer ended discussions about renewing her contract.

Evian also issued a statement in March in which it neither backed nor indicated it was dropping the tennis star.

Meanwhile, Head, her racket manufacturer, said in March that it plans to work with the "courageous" star for many more years.

A Nike spokesperson told PRWeek via email on Wednesday afternoon that, based on the decision of the ITF and its factual findings, the company hopes to see Sharapova back on court and will continue to partner with her.

"The ITF tribunal has found that [Sharapova] did not intentionally break its rules," a Nike spokesperson said via email. "[Sharapova] has always made her position clear, has apologized for her mistake, and is now appealing the length of the ban."

Because Sharapova’s  contravention was not intentional, Evian has also decided to "maintain its long-lasting relationship with the champion," an Evian spokesperson told PRWeek on Wednesday.

Head will also continue stand by Sharapova, the company's CEO Johan Eliasch said in an emailed statement. He noted that the two-year ban "is a flawed decision."

Porsche was not immediately available for comment on whether the suspension had changed its stance.

How the ban will affect Sharapova’s personal brand
Solomon McCown president Ashley McCown predicted Sharapova’s sponsors will sever ties with the tennis star.

"Two years is a long time for the next great female athlete to rise through the ranks and catch the attention of her sponsors," McCown said. "By the time her suspension is over, they will be long gone."

Shawn McBride, EVP of sports for Ketchum Sports & Entertainment, added that as Sharapova works her way back from this crisis, brands will take a very measured approach to working with her. 

"Her status as the golden girl of her sport has definitely been tarnished," he said. "Meanwhile others are ascending the rankings and establishing marketing partnerships that elevate their profiles as the next generation of tennis stars and potentially faces of the sport."

McBride commended Sharapova on the "accountable and forthright" way she has addressed the situation.

"This approach will go a long way as she rebuilds her reputation and image," he added.

This article was updated at 4:30pm ET on June 8 with comment from Nike and Evian; and on June 9 at 7am ET with comment from Head.

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