Following the lastest celebrity scandal – tennis superstar Maria Sharapova’s failed drug test during the Australian Open – we ask what happened with Sharapova and how did sponsors and fans react to the news on social media?
Sharapova, what happened?
Leading up to this public relations crisis, in January 2016 the drug Meldonium was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada)’s list of banned substances. Last week, Sharapova revealed she tested positive for the drug, which she had been taking since 2006 for “health reasons”.
Critics like Dick Pound, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s first president, claimed in an interview that Sharapova and her team were “reckless beyond description.” Others, like rival teammate Serena Williams, are praising her honesty and courage to hold a press conference admitting the truth.
Sponsors’ reactions and social media
Sharapova’s announcement jeopardised endorsement and partnership deals. Hours after the press conference, her largest endorser, Nike, stated, “we have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues.” Similar sentiments were echoed by other sponsors such as Porsche, and Swiss watchmaker, TAG Heuer.
However, critics took to social media to comment on how fast partner companies suspended Maria as a brand advocate:
Fans believe that, unlike past scandals, Sharapova took a different approach displaying “honesty” and “integrity” through her press conference. By coming forward some believe that she should be given a chance until the investigation’s findings are released.
Johan Eliasch, CEO of Head, agrees with fan’s positive sentiments. Through social media on Thursday, Head announced plans to extend Sharapova’s endorsement contract. This decision is in contrast to that of Nike and all other companies who postponed Sharapova’s contracts within 24 hours.
Tennis fans – social media divided
Today’s fast paced, social media driven public is instantly made aware of scandals and are quick to take sides on the issue. Followers on social media were split on Sharapova’s suspension and the decisions made by her sponsors.
Many followers supported her in the way she admitted her mistake:
Others were critical of Maria’s team for not staying updated on such a large issue:
Can Sharapova make a comeback?
Through this whole process, Maria has reached out to the public through her social media accounts and website apologising and thanking them all for their continuous support. This suggests that should she make a comeback, digital will play a key role in effecting her reputation.
The mixed response from both sponsors and fans on social media does not show her to be totally out of favour in both public and professional opinion. Time will tell if her announcement will mean game, set, match for such a legendary career.
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