The Highest Paid Female Athlete On The Planet; Why Sharapova Is So Hot

She sells mobile phones, wristwatches, cameras, handbags and jewelry, automobiles, perfumes, tennis racquets, shoes, and clothing.

She made more than $20 million last year as a marketing engine for nine companies, all willing to keep her workdays under two weeks a year -- total.

She is Maria Sharapova, the player and the product.

"With Maria, we're building a brand," said Max Eisenbud, the Ohio sports marketing agent who has known his best-known client since she was 11 years old.

They met at a sports academy in Bradenton, Fla., where Sharapova had won a tennis scholarship after emigrating from Russia at age 7.

The substance of Sharapova's business plan, Eisenbud said, grew out of a sit-down conversation he had with another agent, Max Steinberg, whose best-known client is Tiger Woods.

"We figured out how Tiger does it," he said. Steinberg, Eisenbud said, "gave me an idea of the platform we could use."

Platform, Platform, Platform

Few athletes other than Woods and Andre Agassi have the kind of recognition factor and the number of "relationships" with sponsors that Sharapova has amassed, mostly in the two years since she won the Wimbledon Championship at the age of 17.

The word "platform" re-enters the conversation.

"It means that all her relationships make sense. The blue chips [companies] all make sense," Eisenbud said.

"She uses the products. She doesn't just scratch her head and say, 'Wow, I'll do this for the money.' She's building relationships."

If the money numbers are correct -- a Forbes magazine estimate of $19 million was "light by about $1 [million] to $2 million" -- the world's most highly paid female sports athlete makes a phenomenal $1,357,144 a day.

That's because Sharapova limits access to her time to 10 days to 12 days a year, shunning all marketing work within four weeks of any tournament, which is where she plays for a living.

Her reported prize money for the year prior to this year's US Open -- $1,493,923 -- amounted to little more than a day's pay in the world of endorsements.

"She's very much a businesswoman. She understands her role, both on the court and off the court," said Debbie Sanford, a spokeswoman for her chosen automobile company.

"She was very particular about what she wanted."

Sharapova: Young and Future Icon

What Sharapova wanted before she could legally drive was a luxury all-terrain vehicle with a particular name. Check her Web site for more clues.

The sports utility vehicle she sells retails for more than $70,000 a copy.

That's high for a young woman under 21.

According to Sanford, however, a pretty young woman who swings a tennis racquet "absolutely fits our demographic."

The company is aiming for a younger buyer than those attracted by another sports figure it employs, Greg Norman, the Australian golfer.

"She's very iconic, very young and dynamic, and she's very professional."

Now, about the tennis.

Well, let's let that wait for another story.

What is Sharapova's future as a business?

In November, it may become clear -- or clearer.

She will sit down in Florida with her "partners," marketing specialists for the nine companies she represents.

For three days, they will brainstorm, looking for ways to extend their market share by maximizing her appeal.

Each member of the group will be careful not to trip over the plans of the other. At the end, the new Sharapova may emerge.

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