With Maria Sharapova back on top after winning the French Open, Nike is having some fun with her historic victory in its social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter.
Sharapova, a Nike athlete who collaborates on clothing design as well as serving as a spokesperson, achieved No. 1 ranking by just making it into the finals. But in winning the French Open, the 25-year-old becomes only the sixth woman in the Open Era to complete the career Grand Slam. (Doing so requires winning the French Open, as well as the Australian Open, the U.S. Open and Wimbledon.)
Nike, via its Facebook and Twitter pages, ran images of Sharapova waving on court, proclaiming, “Those who belong at the top never forget their way back,” using its “Make it count” tagline.
It also steered fans to a mural, deconstructed into even smaller images, on its Facebook page. (Rafael Nadal, also a Nike athlete, was getting the same graphic treatment, even before winning his seventh French open.)
Not surprisingly, the Tennis Channel says it has seen record ratings during its first week of French Open coverage, with viewership up 17% from last year.
“The Grand Slams always do well with viewers and, in turn, marketing partners,” Barry Janoff, executive editor of NYSportsJournalism.com, tells Marketing Daily. “On the women's side, there has been inconsistency in the rankings, which has created drama when Grand Slams are played. Maria Sharapova has always played well and has always been a favorite among fans and marketers. But that was intensified after shoulder surgery in late 2008 forced her to miss almost a year of competition. Since then, fans have generally been rooting for her to return to the top, which she did with her win at the French Open.” Sharapova, ranked again as the world’s highest-paid female athlete by Forbes this year, with earnings of $26 million over the past 12-months, thanked fans through her Facebook page:
Thank you for believing in me.
Thank you for making me better.
Thank you for sharing this moment with me.
Janoff says Sharapova's presence “gives clearer definition in the rankings among fans and marketers heading toward Wimbledon (beginning June 25) and the U.S. Open (beginning Aug. 27).”
Less clear is the Russian’s role at Nike subsidiary Cole Haan, a company that has also featured her in its design partnerships. Nike recently said it plans to sell off that division to focus on its core brands. Neither Nike nor Cole Haan responded to queries.