The short answer: yes. Over the past year, the 22-year-old tennis star collected $37 million in earnings surpassing Serena Williams to become the highest-paid female athlete of all-time.
According to Forbes, Osaka earned $37.4 million in prize money and endorsements, $1.4 million more than Serena, placing her 29th on Forbes’ annual 100 highest-paid athletes list. The Japanese tennis star’s meteoric rise occurred seemingly overnight. She turned pro in 2014 at age 16, and only four years later was catapulted onto the international stage following back-to-back Grand Slam titles–one of which was against her idol Serena Williams at the 2018 U.S. Open. It was at that moment, when Osaka hoisted the US Open Trophy overhead in victory, that a next-generation sports marketing icon was born.
Guided by IMG agent Stuart Duguid, Osaka’s story is extremely unique and one for which fans can’t help but root. Because she ascended the ranks out of the public eye before making a splash in 2018, fans have spent the last two years taking in her engaging personality and youthful energy off the court, while simultaneously witnessing her domination on the court. Additionally, her heritage as a multicultural athlete–her mother is Japanese and father Haitian-American–has allowed Osaka to stand out from the crowd. Ahead of the 2020 Olympics, now rescheduled to 2021, she decided to represent Japan; a strategic decision that courted brand marketing dollars from Procter & Gamble, All Nippon Airways and Nissin Foods, who cut deals to leverage Osaka’s immense marketability surrounding the Summer Games.
Of the many partnerships, her deal with Nike is most interesting. The Oregon-based sports apparel powerhouse doled out $10 million to Osaka last year, part of a rare deal that runs through 2025. Nike requires its sponsored athletes to wear its apparel exclusively without the presence of other brand identifiers during play. But for only the second time ever, Nike made an exemption and granted Osaka the ability to sport patches on her apparel to support other brand partners like All Nippon Airways, MasterCard and Nissin Foods. What speaks more to Osaka’s next-gen marketing prowess are the deals with equity components built-in. Osaka has equity stakes in sports drink BodyArmor and recovery product-maker Hyperice.
Osaka has been able to secure marketing deals with 15 brand partners–almost all of which are worth seven figures annually. With her youthful energy, engaging personality, unique heritage and elite athletic ability, there’s no doubt that this is only the beginning for the young talent and fans everywhere are witnessing the making of a sports marketing icon.
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