She is a four-time Grand Slam singles champion who ranks because the world’s highest-paid feminine athlete, having earned $57 million in 2021, largely from sponsorships. Walmart not too long ago started to inventory merchandise from her skincare firm, Kinlò, in almost 3,000 places. Last month, she began a sports activities illustration company.
And now Naomi Osaka is pushing into Hollywood — with an help from LeBron James.
Osaka, 24, has began a media firm referred to as Hana Kuma in partnership with SpringHill, a fast-growing leisure, advertising and merchandise firm co-founded by James. Osaka mentioned in a quick Zoom interview that her ambitions for Hana Kuma, which stands for “flower bear” in Japanese, embody scripted and unscripted tv sequence, documentaries, anime and branded content material, which is leisure programming that has embedded or built-in promoting.
There’s cause we name ourselves an Empowerment Company. This unimaginable lady and the tales she goes to carry to life is EXACTLY what we about!!!Incredibly proud to name her my companion. @naomiosaka @makespringhill #MoreThananAthlete https://t.co/mellHFKP9Q
— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 21, 2022
“I honestly can’t say if I’ll personally be in anything right now,” Osaka mentioned. “What excites me is being able to inspire people and tell new stories, particularly ones that I would have wanted to see when I was a kid. I always wanted to kind of see someone like me.” Osaka is of Japanese and Haitian ancestry.
Fans ought to anticipate Osaka’s advocacy to underpin at the very least a few of Hana Kuma’s choices, most of that are nonetheless in growth. Osaka has been outspoken on subjects that many elite sports activities stars attempt to keep away from. She was an early supporter of the Black Lives Matter motion. Last yr, she began a worldwide dialogue about psychological well being in sports activities when she withdrew from the French Open, citing a have to make her personal well-being a precedence. She additionally disclosed previous struggles with despair and nervousness.
Osaka’s candor has resonated with an viewers far past sports activities — younger individuals specifically — making her a sponsorship dream though she has not too long ago struggled on the tennis courtroom. (She misplaced within the first spherical of the French Open final month. She mentioned in a social media put up Saturday that she wouldn’t play at Wimbledon this summer season due to an Achilles harm.)
One undertaking in growth includes cooking and the Haitian group. “I watch a lot of food-related shows, cooking competitions, because I like to cook,” Osaka mentioned with fun. The first undertaking with Hana Kuma credit might be a New York Times Op-Doc about Patsy Mink, the primary lady of coloration elected to Congress. Hana Kuma can be engaged on unspecified documentary content material for Epix, a premium cable channel now owned by Amazon.
Naomi Osaka is launching her personal media firm — Hana Kuma — in partnership with LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s The SpringHill Company.
“We’ll carry tales to life with this objective: to make distinctive views really feel common and encourage individuals alongside the way in which” – @naomiosaka pic.twitter.com/hW0rOJ2cav
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) June 21, 2022
SpringHill, co-founded by Maverick Carter in 2020, will function a financing, operations and producing companion for Hana Kuma. SpringHill has roughly 200 staff and was valued at $725 million when promoting a minority stake to lift capital final yr. Operations embody a advertising consultancy and a media and attire division devoted to athlete empowerment. Another unit focuses on movie and tv manufacturing. There can be an occasions crew.
“Naomi can just plug into what we have built,” Carter mentioned.
SpringHill needs to copy the Hana Kuma take care of different athletes who’ve world attraction. “We want to do a lot more of this in the future,” Carter mentioned, noting that discussions have began with different sports activities stars.
It should be requested: Isn’t this only a newfangled self-importance deal? For many years, old-line studios gave favored stars funding to start out affiliated corporations, most of which by no means amounted to a lot — other than holding the star comfortable.
“Under the old system, sometimes those ended up being for vanity,” Carter mentioned. “But the goal here is to build Hana Kuma into a real company and a real brand.” SpringHill’s emphasis on branded content material units it aside from old-line studios, he added. Hana Kuma has been employed by FTX, a cryptocurrency alternate, to supply branded content material.
James mentioned by phone that Osaka’s “grace and power” on and off the courtroom made her a superb match for SpringHill, “which exists to empower athlete creators.”
“We don’t take for granted the position we are in to lend a helping hand, in this case to Naomi, to help empower her to do even more great things,” James mentioned.
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Osaka has 12 sponsors, together with Nike, Mastercard, Louis Vuitton and Panasonic. Her longtime agent and enterprise companion, Stuart Duguid, mentioned some may very well be concerned with Hana Kuma content material. Duguid is a Hana Kuma co-founder.
“We really want to bring that number down and have more in-depth relationships with the ones that continue,” Duguid mentioned, referring to company sponsors. “We want to take bigger swings and start companies, invest in companies, things that might have potentially a bigger outcome than if you did a McDonald’s deal and got paid year to year. What will really move the needle?”
Building a portfolio of companies — whereas nonetheless in the course of her tennis profession — makes Osaka one thing of a pioneer amongst feminine athletes. At least, it’s going to if she succeeds.
“We haven’t seen any female athlete do anything like what we are trying to achieve,” Duguid mentioned. “Serena has done well with her venture business. But she’s toward the end of her career and, you know, we’re in the middle.” He was referring to tennis legend Serena Williams, whose enterprise capital agency, Serena Ventures, has raised an inaugural fund of $111 million to put money into founders with numerous factors of view.
Because she remains to be taking part in tennis, Osaka won’t be sitting in on many manufacturing conferences. “But everything creative and everything strategic, it’s obviously going to have Naomi’s stamp on it and her style and her input,” Duguid mentioned.
This article initially appeared in The New York Times.