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
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
In a perfect scenario you sign the talents
cheap at the beginning of their career, instead
of overpaying when they already made it to
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,
The biggest superstars are historically almost
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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!