April 10 (Bloomberg) -- Maria Sharapova is expanding the business holdings that have made a four-time tennis Grand Slam champion into the world’s highest-paid female athlete, joining sunscreen maker Supergoop! as an equity owner.
The partnership is a foray into the beauty product category for Sharapova, who has endorsement agreements with Nike Inc. for sporting goods, Samsung Electronics Co., Porsche Automobil Holding SE, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA’s TAG Heuer for watches, Danone’s Evian bottled water and Head NV for tennis rackets.
Those deals, along with Sugarpova, the candy brand she started in 2012, helped Sharapova pull in almost $23 million in off-court earnings last year according to Forbes, more than any other female athlete. Sharapova said she sees her latest venture with Supergoop, which was founded in 2007, as an opportunity to educate people about the dangers of skin cancer and take another step toward her post-playing career.
“I’ve had the experience of partnering with many different great brands,” Sharapova, a four-time Grand Slam winner who turns 27 on April 19, said in a telephone interview. “This is a little different. This is something I see doing in the future as well. For me, it’s not about making revenue today or tomorrow, but I believe it’s a company that started on a really good note and it will continue to grow.”
Supergoop focuses on sun protection at the core of its anti-aging skincare products, which Sharapova said she’s used for several years while playing in tournaments and spending long hours practicing in the sun in her home state of Florida. She’s won 29 tournaments -- including one title at each of the sport’s four Grand Slams -- and more than $27 million in prize money since turning professional at age 14.
“It’s been a very seamless partnership because I really believe in the brand itself,” said Sharapova, who declined to disclose how much she’s invested. “It started as a sunscreen company as opposed to a makeup company that just incorporated sunscreen products in their collections.”
Agent Max Eisenbud of IMG Tennis said Sharapova hadn’t been a believer in partnering with beauty products in the past because those companies generally require significant time from models and celebrities for promotional campaigns.
“Maria has never had time to give sponsors the days they needed, so we were never able to work out deals,” Eisenbud said by telephone from Miami. “The last couple years as she’s started to get near the end of her career, I began to focus on what kinds of relationships could she start now and then be with when her career is over.”
Holly Thaggard, Supergoop’s founder and a 41-year-old married mother of two from San Antonio, Texas, said while Sharapova’s investment will help with product development, her main mission with the company will be skin care education. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. and the American Dermatology Association estimates that one in five Americans will develop a form of skin cancer during their lifetime.
“We weren’t looking for a spokesperson, yet what we found was something that’s so authentic,” Thaggard said. “For Maria to feel that passionate about something that’s not her career is pretty incredible.”
Thaggard said Sharapova won’t be the face of the brand, though her global presence will be a “megaphone” to reach the audience that will make the most significant change. Supergoop is planning a campaign in August or September, possibly around the time of tennis’s U.S. Open in New York, that Thaggard says will coincide with the time of year many people are putting traditional sun care products away. The company’s sales have increased by more than 100 percent each of the past six years, Thaggard said, without giving specifics.
David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California, said Sharapova’s investment in the product adds to her message.
“Provided it is a product and a cause that she truly believes in, her support and endorsement will carry not only authenticity, but also global notoriety,” Carter said.
Sharapova said she isn’t considering retirement from tennis yet, saying there’s nothing in her career that gives her greater pleasure than playing competitively in front of thousands of people. Yet as she moves into the final years of her playing career, Sharapova said she’s also thinking about more business endeavors beyond endorsements.
Sugarpova now has distribution agreements in more than 25 countries, 18 months after it was created, and she has plans to expand it beyond candy into a lifestyle brand.
“If you have the time and belief to invest into a brand and really build it and nurture it, and you love doing it, that will always be a success,” Sharapova said. “I want to grow with the companies as well.”
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