Why Naomi Osaka Is The Most Marketable Athlete in The World

Imagine you are a marketing manager for Adidas

or Nike and you’re looking for the next

super star athlete.

The perfect brand ambassador.

What profile are you looking for?

What’s the perfect recipe for a marketable

athlete nowadays?

First of all, the athlete needs to be successful.

When the world is watching the major sports

events, you want your brand ambassadors to


Ideally, for a long time.

So the athlete should be young with a bright

future ahead.

In a perfect scenario you sign the talents

cheap at the beginning of their career, instead

of overpaying when they already made it to

super stars.

Lastly, your athlete of choice needs to be


Including a global appeal and social media


You’d rather have someone who’s famous around

the world and in important markets than a

superstar that is only known to a small home


Naomi Osaka checks all those boxes.

Which is why she was crowned the world’s most

marketable athlete in 2019.

That is especially remarkable, because those

rankings are usually dominated by men.

LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo, Roger Federer,

Usain Bolt.

The biggest superstars are historically almost

always Men.

And they have the biggest paychecks.

But this is about to change and Naomi Osaka

is likely to be at the forefront of that transition.

We’ll explain how she got there and why she

is the dream of every sports marketing executive.

Let’s start with the basics: athletic success.

Osaka already has a lot of that.

She first left her mark when she beat her

childhood idol Serena Williams in the US Open

final in 2018.

Although the match was overshadowed a bit

by a dispute between Williams and the umpire,

that didn’t throw Osaka off track.

She went on to dominate the Australian Open

in 2019, winning her first two Grand Slam

titles in back-to-back tournaments.

She is the first player to achieve this feat

since Jennifer Capriati in 2001.

And then Osaka showed her love for New York

again by winning another US Open title in


Although only 23 years of age, she has managed

to win one Grand Slam in three consecutive

years and made it to number one in the world


Having that much success pays off, especially

in Tennis.

Since Forbes started the ranking in 1990,

the highest paid female athletes have always

been Tennis players.

Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis, Maria Sharapova,

Serena Williams – just to name a few.

But Naomi Osaka managed to top all of them

in 2020.

She earned more than 37 million dollars from

prize money and endorsements, setting an all-time

earnings record for a female athlete in a

single year; Maria Sharapova previously held

the record with just below 30 million in 2015.

That means that Osaka made more money per

year than any female athlete in sports history.

Tennis is the only major global sport where

men and women have some level of equality

in their paychecks.

The prize money at the four Grand Slam events

has been even since 2007, but men still earn

more at a lower-level.

Then again, prize money is only a fraction

of Osaka’s earnings.

More than 90% of her income comes from endorsements.

Osaka was even named the world’s most marketable

athlete in 2019 – and here’s why.

Besides her athletic success at a very young

age, her personality plays an important role

for her marketability and distinguishes her

from other athletes.

This is what she said when asked how she’s

gonna celebrate her first grand slam title:

‘I’m not really a social person like that…maybe

I play video games…I don’t know.’

In 2019 the word “shy” was used over 200

times within online articles to describe Osaka.

But that’s inaccurate.

She might not be as loud and fierce as, let’s

say, Serena Williams, but has developed her

own unique style on and off the court.

And she has a distinct sense of humour.

Where she got that from?

‘My parents aren’t very funny.

I think I got it from the internet.’

Osaka’s introversion breaks the norm compared

to many other over confident super star athletes

in the limelight.

But her wholesome combination of calmness

with a great sense of humour make her very

relatable and authentic for fans.

And if that wasn’t enough to call her the

most marketable athlete: her roots help as


Osaka was born in Japan.

When she was 3, she and her family moved to

the U.S., settling on Long Island and then

heading to Florida.

Because of that, she is not only famous and

marketable in one, but in two huge markets:

the US and Japan.

Osaka held dual citizenship growing up but

made the wise choice to represent Japan ahead

of the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

She is expected to be one of the faces of

the Games, which had triggered unprecedented

levels of excitement among the Japanese public

before the coronavirus outbreak.

The decision to represent Japan made her even

more appealing to Olympic sponsors, like Procter

& Gamble, All Nippon Airways and Nissin, which

all signed sponsorship deals with Osaka to

use her in ad campaigns around the Games.

But no company is as important to Osaka’s

brand and bank account as Nike, which pays

her an estimated $10 million a year.

Her partnership with the sportswear giant

was announced in 2019 after a bidding war

with Adidas.

The bidding was also fuelled because both

brands are competing for female consumers.

The Women’s sportswear market is expected

to grow rapidly in the coming years – and

has better margins.

That means Adidas and Nike earn more money

when they sell products for women and are

keen to have influential female brand ambassadors.

We explained how brands compete for athlete

endorsements in our videos on Nike and on

Adidas and Puma, they’re both linked in

the description.

That might be a reason why Osaka managed to

secure an extremely rare but lucrative provision

in her Nike contract.

The company always requires its tennis players

to be dressed in Nike gear from head to toe,

without any other logos patched on their shirts

or hats.

This is lucrative real estate for marketers

because cameras focus closely on the player

as they serve or get ready for the return.

Nike never made an exemption for Williams,

Sharapova, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi or any

of the other tennis stars in their portfolio.

The only exception until last year was Li

Na from China; Osaka became the second, thanks

to massive leverage with Sharapova and Williams

headed for retirement and the skillful negotiation

by her management from IMG.

She and her management immediately used the

opportunity by signing a patch deal with MasterCard.

Osaka will also have her own Nike logo and

signature line starting in 2020, which will

put her in elite company.

Only very few athletes get their individual

product line at the Swoosh, which is extremely

lucrative because the athletes usually get

a share of the sales.

But what to do with all the cash from endorsements?

She takes an example from none other than

Kobe Bryant.

“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,”.

Besides being a global sports icon himself,

Kobe Bryant had his own venture capital firm

and was quite skilled in investing his money.

He was also the one who introduced Osaka to

BodyArmor, where he was a 10% stake holder

at the time (link to Kobe video).

Besides BodyArmor, two more fast-growing companies

announced partnerships with Osaka in 2019:

Hyperice and Muzik.

The deals will not reach the level of her

endorsement earnings, but she received equity

stakes in all three startups.

She told Forbes in 2019: “I’m really interested

in seeing a young business grow and adding

value to that process,”.

Athletes traditionally often wait until late

in their careers or even retirement to launch

their next act, but global stars like LeBron

James and Roger Federer are turning that trend

around, investing and launching businesses

while still at their peak.

Osaka has accelerated that curve at an age

when her peers are just taking their first

legal sips of alcohol.

‘You ever had a drink?’

‘No, I’m twenty!’

Netflix announced a series on Naomi Osaka

and her way to the Tokyo Olympics.

For that project, she joined forces with LeBron

James and his media company Uninterrupted.

Investment advice from Kobe Bryant, media

production with LeBron James and managed by


It looks like Osaka is set for the future

with strong partners at her side.

We have done quite some video portraits about

famous athletes on this channel already, but

researching Naomi Osaka was particularly entertaining.

If you liked this video, make sure to check

out some of her interview highlights.

Her marketability is a blessing for her partners

and for her bank account.

And for us viewers, it means that we can look

forward to many more years of entertaining

performances – on and off the tennis court.

If you want many more years of Athletic Interest

videos and bless our bank account, make sure

to check out our Patreon page!