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Business Is Booming For Tennis Ace Naomi Osaka, On Track To Be The Highest-Paid Female Athlete

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Naomi Osaka burst on the scene 12 months ago with a memorable run to the U.S. Open title. She added a second straight Grand Slam four months later at the Australian Open, securing the crown of the world’s No. 1 player at 21 years old. Osaka made history with the Aussie win as the first singles player from Asia, male or female, to reach the top spot in the rankings.

But staying at the top presents a new set of challenges when off-court opportunities abound and every player is gunning for you. For some guidance on navigating this tricky course, Osaka recently turned to an athlete who stayed at the pinnacle of his sport for two decades.

“Night after night, people would try to knock Kobe down, but he was so consistently great. That’s what I’m trying to learn from him,” Osaka says via e-mail about the 18-time NBA All-Star and five-time champion Kobe Bryant, who, like Osaka, falls under the Endeavor agency umbrella.

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Osaka wants to follow Bryant’s lead off the court, too, playing the long game. She’s inked a series of blockbuster endorsement deals since her Flushing Meadow victory that could net her $30 million in 2019, but she is laying the foundation for a business beyond just collecting piles of cash for photo shoots.

A trio of companies announced partnerships with Osaka this week in BodyArmor, Hyperice and Muzik. The deals will barely budge her endorsement earnings this year, but she received equity stakes in all three emerging companies. “I’m really interested in seeing a young business grow and adding value to that process,” she says. “I tasked my team with finding brands that align with my personality and my interests.”

Athletes once often waited until late in their careers or even retirement to launch their next act, but global stars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant increasingly are striking while the iron is hot, investing and launching businesses while still at their peak.

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Osaka has accelerated that curve at an age when her peers are just taking their first legal sips of alcohol. “I want to take an interest in my business now and not wait until the end of my career. Kobe is one of the best to learn from in so many ways,” she says.

Osaka, who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a Haitian-American father, checks all the boxes for marketers. She’s young, accomplished and multicultural, with a soaring social media following. That helped her score the No. 2 spot on Forbes‘ 2019 list of the world’s highest-paid female athletes with $24.3 million, behind Serena Williams ($29.2 million).

Muzik founder and CEO Jason Hardi calls Osaka a triple threat for her talent, design capabilities and philanthropic interests. She worked with Muzik, the “smartphone of headphones” company, to design a new set of headphones that launches today. Osaka will receive royalties on the product, in addition to her equity stake.

Muzik counts Chris Paul, Cardi B, Offset, Paul George and Von Miller among its investors and ambassadors, but the Osaka product is the first celebrity signature line for the company. “We’ve been waiting for the right time and right person. She really cares about design,” says Hardi.

The increased power and speed in tennis have made recovery a critical consideration for top players, and Osaka has used Hyperice’s line of recovery and movement products for a couple of years to aid her ability to bounce back after a match. She says the products are everywhere in the tennis locker room. She was a natural when CEO Jim Huether wanted an athlete to help globalize his company’s mission “to create healthier humans.”

READ MORE | The Highest-Paid Female Athletes 2019: Serena And Osaka Dominate

The $64 million-in-revenue company wants to expand its international presence, which currently represents 30% of the business. Hyperice launched marketing campaigns in Japan and the U.S. this week featuring Osaka as part of a multi-year deal. Osaka, who was raised in the U.S. but represents Japan in international competitions, is expected to be one of the faces of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, and the company is already mapping out marketing plans around the Games.

“We always look for athletes who are a little entrepreneurial. It creates more authenticity with the brand,” says Huether.

Sports drink BodyArmor is Osaka’s third new partner ahead of the U.S. Open, which starts Monday and will feature Osaka as the top seed on the women’s side. She was introduced to the brand by Bryant, the third-largest stakeholder in the company after founder Mike Repole and Coca-Cola.

Bryant originally invested roughly $5 million in the company in 2013 for a 10% stake. Coca-Cola’s $300 million investment last year pushed the value of Bryant’s piece to $200 million. The company, which is on target for $700 million in retail sales in 2019, wants to surpass market-leader Gatorade by 2025.

“Naomi is a fierce competitor, something I can certainly relate to, and I couldn’t be happier to welcome her to the BodyArmor team,” says Bryant.

“I know she’ll show the same type of passion off the court helping BodyArmor become the No. 1 sports drink as she did on the court becoming the No. 1 women’s tennis player.”

Osaka was crowned the “world’s most marketable athlete” this week in SportsPro Magazine’s annual top 50 list. Her bevy of endorsement partners like Nissan, Citizen, Shiseido, Nissin, MasterCard and Procter & Gamble would agree.

But no company is as important to Osaka’s brand and bank account as Nike, which pays her an estimated $10 million a year under the new pact. Her partnership with the sportswear giant was announced in April after a fierce bidding war with Adidas. Nike offered a rare exemption in the deal, allowing Osaka to wear the logos of other companies on her tennis apparel—lucrative real estate for elite players. China’s Li Na is the only other player granted the exemption: not Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe or any other current or former Nike athlete.

Nike unveiled a collaboration with Japanese designer brand Sacai for an 11-piece collection ahead of the Open. Osaka will have her own Nike logo and athleisure line starting in 2020.

Osaka says the coming months will include a collaboration with a Japanese fashion brand and a project with LeBron and his business partner Maverick Carter. “I want to do things my way and not follow what has been done in the past,” says Osaka, “I know I’m in a privileged position, so the main thing is to enjoy it all … and that means working with partners that I truly like.”

-Kurt Badenhausen; Forbes

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The Highest-Paid Female Athletes 2019: Serena And Osaka Dominate

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Naomi Osaka entered the U.S. Open last year largely under the radar as the 19th-ranked player in the world. But that all changed with her run to the finals and her memorable win over Serena Williams. When Osaka backed up the Open title with a second straight Grand Slam win at the Australian Open in January, the next marketing superstar was born.

Osaka’s accomplishments, youth, skill and multicultural appeal make her a marketer’s dream. Born to a Japanese mother and a Haitian-American father, she was the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam event and the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles.

Her off-court earnings jumped from $1.5 million annually to an estimated $16 million for the 12 months ending June 1, after she signed deals with Mastercard, All Nippon Airways, Nissan and Procter & Gamble.

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Her endorsement haul will be even greater over the next year after she signed a blockbuster, multimillion-dollar pact with Nike in the spring, just ahead of our earnings cutoff. Osaka, 21, is primed to be one of the faces of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Including prize money, Osaka’s total earnings over the last 12 months were $24.3 million, by Forbes’ count. That makes her just the fourth female athlete to earn $20 million in a year, joining three fellow tennis aces: Williams, Maria Sharapova and Li Na.

Osaka’s big payday still trails that of Williams, who is the world’s highest-paid female athlete for the fourth year in a row. She earned $29.2 million, including $4.2 million in prize money, after returning to the WTA Tour following the birth of her daughter, Olympia, in September 2017.

Williams continues to expand one of the most robust endorsement portfolios in sports, adding Pampers, Axa Financial and General Mills to her roster. They join more than a dozen other brands, like Nike, Beats, Gatorade and JPMorgan Chase.

The 23-time Grand Slam champ scores highly across all demographics, and among athletes, only Tiger Woods and Tom Brady have higher levels of awareness with U.S. consumers. Williams’ $225 million estimated net worth makes her the only athlete on Forbes’ list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women.

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Williams and Osaka both earned more than twice as much as the third-highest-paid female athlete in the world, Angelique Kerber, who pulled in $11.8 million from tennis.

Tennis remains the most surefire way for female athletes to make millions of dollars. Witness the WTA Tour’s announcement last week that the year-end WTA Finals event will pay its winner $4.7 million this year—the largest payout in the history of men’s or women’s tennis.

Total prize money on the WTA Tour is $179 million in 2019, and the ten highest-paid female athletes in the world this year are all tennis players (women from golf, soccer and badminton crack the next five).

Female athletes in soccer, basketball and softball earn salaries of pennies on the dollar compared with their male counterparts. The WNBA max salary slot this season is $117,500, compared with $37.4 million in the NBA.

Despite the playing-salary gap in team sports, marketing opportunities have opened up in recent years for female athletes thanks to the growth of social media platforms, says Dan Levy, who heads up the Olympics and female athletes divisions at Wasserman.

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“Pro athletes now have a way to connect with their fans that doesn’t rely on network TV to build a fan base and connectivity to the consumers that brands want to reach,” Levy says. “That change alone has helped women become much more powerful in the sports marketing world.”

Wasserman, which represents Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Katie Ledecky among its 2,000 clients, launched a new service, Athlete Exchange, last month to help match athletes who have robust digital presences with brands chasing a desired audience.

Wasserman client Hilary Knight does not get a lot of air time as a member of the U.S. women’s ice hockey team, but her online profile has more social interactions than all but six NHL players in 2019. The engagement is a boost for her endorsement partners like Red Bull, Visa and Bauer Hockey.

Our earnings tally looks at prize money, salaries, bonuses, endorsements and appearance fees between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019. There are 15 female athletes who made at least $5 million during that time period; for comparison, roughly 1,300 male athletes will hit that mark this year. The top 15 earned a cumulative $146 million, compared with $130 million last year. It’s an international crew, with athletes from 11 countries represented.

15. Ariya Jutanugarn

LPGA Player Portraits
PHOTO: DONALD MIRALLE/GETTY IMAGES

Total Earnings: $5.3 million

Prize Money: $3.3 million

Endorsements: $2 million

Jutanugarn won the LPGA Tour’s Race to the CME Globe season-long points competition and the accompanying $1 million bonus. The Thai pro golfer has more than ten endorsement partners, including Titleist, Toyota, KBank and Thai Airways.

13 (tie). Madison Keys

Day Three: The Championships - Wimbledon 2019
PHOTO: MIKE HEWITT/GETTY IMAGES

Total Earnings: $5.5 million

Prize Money: $2.5 million

Endorsements: $3 million

Keys reached a pair of Grand Slam finals in 2018 (French Open and U.S. Open) and won her first clay-court event of her career at the Charlestown Open this year. Nike is her biggest endorsement, and she also counts Evian, Wilson and Ultimate Software as partners.

13 (tie). P.V. Sindhu

BWF World Championships 2018 - Day 7
PHOTO: VCG VIA GETTY IMAGES

Total Earnings: $5.5 million

Prize Money: $500,000

Endorsements: $5 million

Sindhu remains India’s most marketable female athlete. The badminton star has endorsements with Bridgestone, JBL, Gatorade, Panasonic and more. She became the first Indian to win the season-ending BWF World Tour finals in 2018.

12. Alex Morgan

United States of America v Netherlands : Final - 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France
PHOTO: QUALITY SPORT IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES

Total Earnings: $5.8 million

Salary: $250,000

Endorsements: $5.5 million

The biggest star of the U.S. Women’s National Team says she’ll be back in uniform for the 2023 World Cup and is bringing personal sponsors like Nike, Coca-Cola, Beats, AT&T, Continental Tires and Volkswagen along for the ride. The USWNT co-captain is planning to launch a media company focused on women in sport.

10 (tie). Garbiñe Muguruza

2019 French Open - Day One
PHOTO: ADAM PRETTY/GETTY IMAGES

Total Earnings: $5.9 million

Prize Money: $2.4 million

Endorsements: $3.5 million

Earnings fell for the two-time major winner as her ranking recently dropped to No. 28, from second in the world at the end of 2017. She still maintains a deep endorsement roster with Adidas, Evian, Beats, Rolex and Babolat.

10 (tie). Venus Williams

Day One: The Championships - Wimbledon 2019
PHOTO: VISIONHAUS/GETTY IMAGES

Total Earnings: $5.9 million

Prize Money: $900,000

Endorsements: $5 million

The 39-year-old Williams invested in wellness brand Astura and was appointed chief brand officer of the company in May. A 23-time Grand Slam champion, including doubles, she launched her own YouTube channel last month focused on “fitness, tennis, wellness, design and more.” Williams can bank six figures a pop on the speaking circuit.

9. Elina Svitolina

The Championships - Wimbledon 2019
PHOTO: TIM CLAYTON/CORBIS VIA GETTY IMAGES

Total Earnings: $6.1 million

Prize Money: $4.6 million

Endorsements: $1.5 million

Svitolina scored the biggest win of her career when she captured the WTA Finals title in Singapore to end the 2018 season. The Ukrainian-born pro pocketed $2.4 million for the win and finished the year with a No. 4 world ranking, triggering bonuses from sponsors Nike and Wilson.

8. Karolina Pliskova

Day Five: The Championships - Wimbledon 2019
PHOTO: CLIVE BRUNSKILL/GETTY IMAGES

Total Earnings: $6.3 million

Prize Money: $4.6 million

Endorsements: $1.7 million

The Czech-born Pliskova has won four events over the past 12 months but has not reached a Slam final since losing the 2016 U.S. Open. Pliskova bumped her off-court earnings with a new contract with FILA that kicked in this year.

7. Maria Sharapova

WTA Mallorca Open 2019
PHOTO: QUALITY SPORT IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES

Total Earnings: $7 million

Prize Money: $1 million

Endorsements: $6 million

Injuries limited Sharapova to only 18 matches over the past year, but she maintains a lucrative endorsement with Nike, in addition to her Porsche, Head, Evian and Tag Heuer partnerships. Sharapova invested in the UFC and skincare brand Supergoop, yet her main off-court focus is building her candy brand Sugarpova.

6. Caroline Wozniacki

Day Three: The Championships - Wimbledon 2019
PHOTO: SHAUN BOTTERILL/GETTY IMAGES

Total Earnings: $7.5 million

Prize Money: $3.5 million

Endorsements: $4 million

Wozniacki won a trio of events in 2018 and ranked among the top three players during the entire year. She married former NBA player David Lee in June. The wedding brought together stars from their respective sports, with Serena Williams a bridesmaid and other attendees including Angelique Kerber, Pau Gasol and Harrison Barnes.

5. Sloane Stephens

Day Six: The Championships - Wimbledon 2019
PHOTO: MIKE HEWITT/GETTY IMAGES

Total Earnings: $9.6 million

Prize Money: $4.1 million

Endorsements: $5.5 million

Stephens reached the finals of four events last year and finished the year ranked No. 6 overall. Her Nike pact, which began last year, is one of the biggest in the sport. She showcased a tennis shoe based on the “Aqua” colorway of Nike’s retro Air Jordan VIII this summer.

4. Simona Halep

The Championships - Wimbledon 2019
PHOTO: TIM CLAYTON/CORBIS VIA GETTY IMAGES

Total Earnings: $10.2 million

Prize Money: $6.2 million

Endorsements: $4 million

Halep led the sport in prize money in 2018 and ranks fifth on the all-time list with $33 million. She won Grand Slam titles each of the past two years, triggering lucrative bonuses. The Romanian pro counts Nike, Wilson, Mercedes-Benz and Hublot among her sponsors.

3. Angelique Kerber

Day Two: The Championships - Wimbledon 2019
PHOTO BY MATTHIAS HANGST/GETTY IMAGES

Total Earnings: $11.8 million

Prize Money: $5.3 million

Endorsements: $6.5 million

Kerber won Wimbledon in 2018 and finished the year ranked second in the world, triggering bonuses from her partners. She renewed deals with Adidas, SAP, Generali and NetJets and recently inked a new pact with Procter & Gamble’s Head & Shoulders brand. Other endorsements include Yonex, Porsche, Rolex and Lavazza.

2. Naomi Osaka

Nature Valley Classic - Day Four
PHOTO: MORGAN HARLOW/GETTY IMAGES

Total Earnings: $24.3 million

Prize Money: $8.3 million

Endorsements: $16 million

Nike shocked the tennis world when it announced in April it had secured Osaka to an endorsement deal. Most observers thought she would return to Adidas, which had Osaka under contract until her deal expired at the end of 2018.

1. Serena Williams

Serena Williams 2019 Australian Open - Day 8
JULIAN FINNEY/GETTY IMAGES

Total Earnings: $29.2 million

Prize Money: $4.2 million

Endorsements: $25 million

Williams, 37, wants to play through at least next year but is already planning her next act with a clothing line, S by Serena, and aims to launch jewelry and beauty products lines by the end of 2020. She has also built a venture portfolio worth more than $10 million.

-Kurt Badenhausen; Forbes

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