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Monday, April 3, 2006
Sharapova to endorse Land Rover line

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

The most marketable woman in the sports world has added yet another endorsement to her growing roster.

Car company Land Rover has signed tennis star Maria Sharapova to a three-year deal that one source with knowledge of the deal said is worth approximately $2 million a year.

"She's successful, young, dynamic, global and iconic," Land Rover spokeswoman Deborah Sandford said.

Although other female athletes have had deals with car companies -- including Martina Navratilova (Suburu) and Annika Sorenstam (Lexus) -- Sharapova's deal has the highest profile.

After winning Wimbledon in 2004, Sharapova actually signed a one-year deal with Honda, but the deal was only in Japan. Sharapova's agent Max Eisenbud wouldn't comment specifically on the contract terms, but he said the current deal provides for marketing in North America, England and Russia with potential to take the relationship worldwide.

It is not clear how much influence athletes have in swaying purchasing decisions on items more pricey than shoes and other equipment. While Sandford said that the company is not ready to disclose its plans for Sharapova, she did say that they are focused on their Land Rover LRIII (starts at $45,000) and the Range Rover Sport (starts at $57,000) and that women make up a significant portion of their car buyers.

"It's not like Maria will help them sell cars in the same way she helps Prince sell rackets," Eisenbud said. "What this is about is two great brands being united."

News of the signing comes at a time when the U.S. automobile industry is battling multibillion-dollar losses while weathering the bankruptcies of parts manufacturers. Ford, Land Rover's parent company, reported Monday that its U.S. auto sales fell 14 percent this month, but that Land Rover was one of its two brands that posted a sales increase.

Sharapova now likely will arrive at tournaments in Land Rover vehicles, though her deal with Nike prohibits her from having any patches on her clothing to accompany the swoosh logo.

In 2006, Sharapova will make more than any other woman athlete in the marketing world. Her deals with Nike, Prince, Motorola, Canon, Tag Heuer, Colgate-Palmolive and Parlux, which makes her fragrance, will be worth more than $20 million to her.

The 19-year-old is ranked No. 4 in the world. She is 21-4 this year, recently winning the Pacific Life Open. She has made the quarterfinals of every tournament she has played in for the last two years.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.