Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova returns to competitive action this week at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix following a 15-month suspension for doping.
The sporting world remains divided over whether she should be given wildcard entries into forthcoming Grand Slams and waits with anticipation, along with her sponsors, to see which Sharapova will take to the court.
Will she perform like a former world number one and a five-time Grand Slam winner, or will it be that of someone who hasn’t played competitively since January 2016?
The multi-millionaire, who used her time off productively; expanding her confectionary business, enrolling in courses at Harvard Business school and completing an internship at a London Advertising Agency, remains a popular figure amongst her fans and sponsors despite being found guilty of taking the banned substance Meldonium.
At the time of her suspension, which was initially two-years and then reduced on appeal, many of her corporate sponsors including Nike, Head and Evian declared their immediate support by continuing their partnership.
Porsche also re-confirmed its relationship, but TAG Heur halted talks to renew a contract, which had expired at the end of 2015.
It’s a delicate Board discussion and ultimately decision maintaining support for someone who’s been judged to have ‘cheated’ and one which only time will tell if these brands got right or wrong.
Until June 2016 Sharapova had been the world’s best-paid female athlete for 11 years and that year around $20m of her $21.9m earnings came from endorsements.
Her return will be covered around the globe, with differing reactions on whether she should be there and deserves to be invited to future events. But all major news organisations will be reporting on Maria Sharapova.
And when dressed in Nike, playing with a Head racquet, drinking Evian in her recovery time and being chauffeured in a Porsche, her sponsors will be getting the exposure they recruited her to deliver.
The question is whether that’s good exposure?