Sharapova Joining Enlyten vs. Gatorade War?

It was about a year ago that I covered a brand called Enlyten SportStrips. It's basically Gatorade on one of those strips you put into your mouth.

The story got intriguing when the company alleged the NFL pushed them out of a deal with the Buffalo Bills because Gatorade, the official sports drink sponsor of the league, was worried about them. Enlyten then sued Gatorade, alleging restraint of trade.

The case is still in the discovery phase, but the startup company that makes the strips, HealthSport, might be on the cusp of their first big move against Gatorade.

Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with the lawsuit.

Sources are telling CNBC that Maria Sharapova is close to signing a deal with the company. HealthSport lost $3 million in the first quarter of 2008 and has a stock worth 12 cents, but the supposed deal would provide the tennis star with up-front cash and a piece of the company that would be worth more annually than the deal she had with Gatorade.

Gatorade signed Sharapova to a two-year, worldwide deal in January 2007 that we heard was worth about $900,000 a year. Sources say Gatorade tried to extend that deal at a reduction, citing a rough economic environment that forced its parent company PepsiCo to cut 3,300 jobs last month. But Sharapova's camp instead looked to Enlyten, whose only other major active star on their endorsement roster is Washington Redskins defensive end Jason Taylor.

The deal would enable Sharapova to help grow a company, get a piece of the brand and also allow her do other drink deals. Her deal with Gatorade also included rights to Tropicana and other PepsiCo brands.

In 2007, HealthSport projected sales to be as high as $10 million, due in part to its SportStrips product. That potential was reduced when its plans to market through NFL teams fell through.

Lending credence to Sharapova's possible move is the fact that Enlyten is planning on relaunching its Web site on January 9, also coinciding with the launching of a new energy strip. That would be one day after Sharapova's Gatorade deal was announced two years ago.

Sharapova made more than $25 million last year in endorsements and prize money, making her the highest paid female athlete in the world. She has endorsement deals with Nike, Cole Haan, Prince, Land Rover, Canon, Sony Ericsson, Tag Heuer and Tiffany.

Rumors are that Gatorade is looking for another women's tennis star to fill Sharapova's place. That deal will likely be filled by Serena Williams, sources say.

Questions? Comments?