She is a four-time Grand Slam singles champion and is considered the highest paid female athlete in the world, earning $57 million in 2021, mostly from sponsors. Walmart recently began selling products from its skincare company, Kinlò, in nearly 3,000 outlets. Last month she opened a sports representation agency.
And now Naomi Osaka moving into Hollywood – with the help of LeBron James.
RS. Osaka, 24, founded a media company called Hana Kuma in partnership with springhill, a fast growing entertainment, marketing and product company co-founded by Mr. James. RS. Osaka said in a brief Zoom interview that her ambitions for Hana Kuma, which means “flower bear” in Japanese, include scripted and unscripted television series, documentaries, anime, and branded content, i.e., entertainment programs with embedded or embedded ads.
“Honestly, I can’t say if I personally would be in anything right now,” the Ms said. Osaka said. “What excites me is the opportunity to inspire people and tell new stories, especially those that I would have liked to see when I was a child. I’ve always wanted to see someone like me.” RS. Osaka is of Japanese and Haitian descent.
Fans should expect Ms. Osaka’s support for at least some of Hana Kuma’s proposals, most of which are still in development. RS. Osaka spoke candidly on topics that many elite sports stars try to avoid. She was an early supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. Last year, she launched a global discussion about mental health in sports when withdrew from the French Open, citing the need to make one’s own well-being a priority. She also spoke about past struggles with depression and anxiety.
RS. Osaka’s sincerity has resonated with viewers far beyond sports, especially the youth, making her a sponsorship dream even though she’s been having trouble on the tennis court lately. (She lost in first round of the French Open last month. She made the announcement on social media on Saturday. she won’t play at Wimbledon this summer due to an Achilles injury.)
One of the projects in development involves a culinary and Haitian community. “I watch a lot of food shows, cooking competitions, because I love cooking,” Osaka said with a laugh. The first project with the participation of Khana Kuma will be New York Times op-doc about Patsy Mink, the first woman of color to be elected to Congress. Hana Kuma is also working on unspecified documentary content for Epix, a premium cable channel now owned by Amazon.
SpringHill, co-founder Maverick Carter in 2020 will act as financial, operational and production partner for Hana Kuma. SpringHill has about 200 employees and was valued at $725 million when it sold a minority stake to raise capital last year. Operations include marketing consulting and media and clothing department dedicated to empowering athletes. Another division is engaged in film and television production. There is also a group of events.
“Naomi can just tap into what we’ve built,” Carter said.
SpringHill wants to repeat Hana Kuma’s deal with other world famous athletes. “We want to do much more in the future,” Mr. Carter said, noting that discussions have begun with other sports stars.
One has to ask: is this not a newfangled vanity deal? For decades, old studios have given favored stars funding to set up subsidiaries, most of which never bring in much, except to keep the star happy.
“Under the old system, sometimes it turned out to be for vanity,” he said. Carter said. “But the goal here is to turn Hana Kuma into a real company and a real brand.” He added that SpringHill’s focus on branded content sets it apart from older studios. Hana Kuma was hired by cryptocurrency exchange FTX to create branded content.
mr. James said by phone that M. Osaka’s “grace and strength” on and off the court made her a good 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 her do even more great things,” Mr. James said.
RS. Osaka has 12 sponsors including Nike, Mastercard, Louis Vuitton and Panasonic. Her longtime agent and business partner, Stuart Dugid, said that some of them may be related to Hana Kuma’s content. mr. Dugid is the co-founder of Hana Kuma.
“We really want to bring that number down and build deeper relationships with those who continue to work,” Mr. Wilson said. Dugid said referring to corporate sponsors. “We want to take big steps and build companies, invest in companies, things that have the potential to do more than if you were in a deal with McDonald’s and getting paid year after year. What will really move the needle?”
Building a portfolio of businesses—while still in the middle of her tennis career—makes Ms. Osaka something of a trailblazer among female athletes. At least that will be the case if she succeeds.
“We haven’t seen a single female athlete doing anything like what we’re trying to achieve,” he said. Dugid said. “Serena excelled in her venture business. But she is nearing the end of her career and we are, you know, in the middle.” He was referring to tennis legend Serena Williams, whose venture capital firm, Serena Venturesraised a $111 million inaugural fund to invest in founders with different viewpoints.
Since she still plays tennis, Osaka won’t be in many production meetings. “But everything creative and everything strategic will obviously have Naomi’s stamp, her style and her contributions,” Dugid said.