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What’s Next for Naomi Osaka?

What’s Next for Naomi Osaka?
The four-time Grand Slam Champion earned an estimated $60 million in 2022. Only 25 years old, Boardroom spoke to Osaka’s team at Evolve to learn what’s on her horizon in 2023 and beyond.

Tennis provided the platform for to become a mogul, millionaire, and household name.

Over the course of her 11-year professional career — one that started at age 14 — Osaka has broken barriers and the bank. From beating both Williams sisters to co-founding her own agency, , the Japanese-born talent has ascended in her sport while spreading her wings far beyond it.

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Appealing to an audience that spans both hemispheres, Osaka is Gen Z personified and idealized.

“I have conversations with brands and they say, ‘Tell me about Naomi?’” Evolve co-founder Stuart Duguid begins to Boardroom. “I say, ‘Well, she likes , anime, and .’ They’re like, ‘Woah! That’s it, that’s the whole thing.’”

To a generation, Osaka is truly “the whole thing.”

She sits at the cutting edge of sport and culture, competing at the highest level of tennis while pushing boundaries outside of it.

So, how did she ascend to this place of power and what should fans expect from her in the future?

Boardroom breaks it down through conversations with Osaka’s team at Evolve along with insight from the star herself.

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Arriving to Thriving

Think your life’s been crazy since 2016? Consider Naomi Osaka’s.

Six years ago, Osaka reached her first WTA final at age 19. Two years later, the still-surging Osaka defeated in the US Open.

In hindsight, it was supposed to be a passing of the torch moment. In the media, it was overshadowed by the emotional exchange between Williams and the umpire. All the while, Osaka continued to win while experiencing the same stress tied to politics, the pandemic, and social unrest that’s impacted all of us.

“In the course of the last four years, other than this year, she’s won a Grand Slam every year,” Stuart says. “Off the court, the things she stands for? She’s right at the front of those movements.” 

Famously, those movements include strong stances on mental health awareness and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

In 2020, the same year she won the US Open and ranked alongside the likes of LeBron, , and Brady for off-court earnings, Osaka was the one that traveled to Minnesota to take part in the George Floyd protests. A year later in 2021, she received fines for forgoing press availability at the French Open as a means to protect her own mental health.

While Osaka’s uncanny mix of power and vulnerability makes her a superhero among Gen Z fans, the individual nature of her sport and the spotlight shined on an introvert don’t make these moves any easier.

“She stopped tennis for a whole day when no individual went out on that limb,” Stuart notes. “It’s much easier to do with a team, but to come to that on your own as an island? I thought that was revolutionary.”

Still in the spotlight, yet playing at her own pace, Osaka’s position is not just that of an agent of change but also as the head of an agency.

In May 2022, Osaka and her longtime agent formed . The move was suggested by Osaka in 2021 as her IMG contract was about to end. This allowed her to have strength and influence in her own business in the same fashion as LeBron James, , and Kevin Durant.

It was a power play by Osaka, but what else would you expect from someone who’s always ascended ahead of schedule?

“It’s another step in taking control of my own destiny,” Osaka told Boardroom. “But equally it’s exciting for me to be involved in helping other athletes achieve their goals and learn from my experiences.”

Of experiences, Osaka has many.

But when it comes to upcoming business moves, she may have even more.

The Osaka Era

Naomi Osaka and Stuart Duguid have been doing deals together long before the entire world knew her name.

“Even when Naomi was ranked 100, she had a big deal with Nissin Noodles,” says Stuart.

Procuring partnerships to pay for Osaka’s travel, coaching, and training, Stuart leveraged Osaka’s appeal to the enormous market of Japan before she blossomed in both hemispheres.

To put it plainly, Naomi’s not new to this, nor is Stuart.

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“We’ve been doing the pitch person/endorser game for a long time,” says Stuart. “Now we’re in a position to do things differently.” 

At Evolve, Naomi is both the public figurehead and a co-founder.

Since starting Evolve, it’s been a real-time MBA course for the young woman who’s already topped the ATP on numerous times.

“The most interesting aspect of the business for me is investing,” Osaka says.

“I’ve learned a ton in the last 18 months from Alex Cohen and Stu and that’s probably the area where I’m most engaged. I love speaking with and figuring out ways where I can add value to help companies grow.”

Stuart sees it the same way. He notes that Naomi not only expressed interest in being a bigger part of the business conversations but realized her earning power alone was much more than endorsing products or appearing in advertisements.

“When you get to another stage, it’s what are the values of the company, how involved can I be, and is there a royalty?” Stuart says. “Can I have a product, is there equity? The last number tends to be the dollar number.”

It may seem as though every aspect of Naomi’s life has been basically monetized, and to some degree that’s true. However, it’s not executed in a way that’s cliche or selling out. Stuart and the small team at Evolve have helped her align with companies and products that are of use for her own life, often earning equity all at once.

Take for example.

Most known for their Hypervolt massage guns and athlete recovery devices, Osaka is no stranger to rehabilitating her body in realtime, nor are any of her peers. As an athlete-investor, she’s using and promoting their product while getting a piece of the growth.

Moreover, her platform as an advocate for mental health made her the perfect partner for Hyperice to amplify : a meditation device in which Osaka voices the class. These types of organic — or if anything else useful — deals place Stuart and Naomi in the same sphere of Forbes frontrunners like LeBron James who’s made similar moves by co-founding Klutch and SpringHill.

“Their approach is always about collaboration,” told Boardroom when asked about Evolve. “Which in this sports marketing space is key because partnership is the way to build one plus one equals three relationships.”

Partnerships play out like this all over Osaka’s day-to-day life. Stuart cites Sweetgreen as the perfect example.

“Naomi was eating it every single lunch — and I’m not making that up to pitch because we’re already with them,” says Stuart. “She was eating it on shoots when she was on the go trying to be healthy.”

Here we see the Evolve equation in realtime: Naomi likes a product, Stuart sees potential, they vet the brass behind said company, and accomplish a deal.

“I ended up getting in touch with the founders and they were such great guys,” Stuart says. “They’re one of our favorite companies to work with because they’re the total package: the product is great, we authentically consume it, we like the brand, and we like the people involved. It was a great investment.”

As an investor, Naomi has a stake in the $1.2 billion company. She also has lunch taken care of at shoots and her own salad sold in stores. Not only did she become part of the company at 23, but the benefits and added value entirely eclipse the days of athletes attached to fast food.

Due to the structure of these forward-thinking deals, Osaka topped all female athletes in earnings in 2022 with $60 million despite only making $1.1 million of that on the court.

Still, neither she nor her team is looking to sell out.

“It’s not about the money,” says Evolve’s Carly Duguid. “A brand could come to us and offer millions of dollars for Nick Kyrgios or Naomi, but if it doesn’t fit their personalities we would never do that.”

No longer tied to big agency constraints, it’s likely Evolve and Osaka will make even bigger long-term plays in 2023.

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“The last 18 months, the business has evolved,” Stuart says. “It’s less traditional sponsorships and it’s more investments, starting companies, and taking bigger swings.”

Citing the likes of , LeBron James, and as North Stars, Evolve is eyeing the true trailblazers that can make a mark on business and culture while still dominating in their day-to-day craft.

When asked who Naomi admires the most in regard to being both a master of one’s craft while also a boss, the answer is easy.

“,” says Carly. “To be killer with her music but to be such a business mogul with ? That’s Naomi’s pinnacle: being really good at what you do, having an incredible business outside of it, and being able to pull a look together every time you step out that represents that.”

Using the world as her runway and soon the Super Bowl as a stage, RiRi is the gold standard for Osaka and others.

“What Rihanna has done in the business space is unmatched in my opinion,” says Carly.

Unmatched for now. 

Consider this: Just nine years ago, Rihanna was 25 — the same age Osaka is now. Cracking 2013’s Forbes 30 Under 30 list, the storied singer brought in an estimated $43 million with most money coming from touring and album sales.

Since then, she’s become the youngest female billionaire based in America by becoming a force in everything from lingerie to skincare. 

Ahead of her hero in regard to pace — Osaka earned $60 million at 25 with most money coming off court — it’s not far-fetched to think that the tennis titan could become the first female billionaire athlete ever. Hitting these heights will mean more Grand Slam wins and more equity deals. 

Moreover, it will mean more moves.

Fashion & the Future

Most fans don’t know that Naomi Osaka takes meetings with founders and learns all about investing from her financial advisor Alex Cohen.

What you probably did know is that when it comes to athletes working in fashion, she’s literally in a league of her own.

“Design is my true passion,” Osaka says. “I think my strategy has always been to collaborate with the best designers in the world at the best brands — like , Levi’s, TAG Heuer, Nike — to learn as much as I can from those experiences.” 

In many ways, it’s a model slightly similar to that of her hero, Rihanna.

In 2014, the singer signed on to be PUMA’s Creative Director. By 2015, her first collection arrived and in 2016, she had her own sneaker, the PUMA Fenty Trainer. The next year, she founded Fenty as a fashion house and by 2019, it was launched in partnership with LVMH.

Over the course of five years, Rihanna rose in the ranks of fashion as the first woman of color to lead a luxury label at the $152 billion conglomerate. Through Fenty, RiRI leads a label that’s literally made her a billionaire.

Don’t look now, but Naomi may be next.

“At some point, it’s no secret that I’d like to design for my own brand,” Osaka says.

Like Rihanna, Naomi’s start was in sportswear. Since signing with Nike in 2019, Osaka has been presented prominently as an athlete, collaborator, and curator.

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“Naomi’s had her own custom-designed looks since she signed to Nike,” says Carly. “All of Naomi’s on-court looks are custom-made just for her.”

On top of that, Stuart was able to secure a clause in Naomi’s contract that allows her to wear sponsor patches on-court. This ranges from Australia-based cloud company, Workday, to $335 billion payment processing company, Mastercard.

It aligns with the idea of doing deals differently. More personal to Osaka, it also helps fund her passion for fashion.

Years ago, Naomi voiced the desire to design. She shared with Stuart her dreams of covering Vogue and Harper’s BAZAAR, as well as her wishes to start a clothing company with her sister, Mari.

Stuart swiftly advised Osaka to collaborate and learn from all the biggest existing brands — which she has — paving the way for her career after tennis.

“She bought into that and that’s where we’re at today,” Stuart says.

From appearing on awnings in Paris as a face for Louis Vuitton to having Levi’s looks that fetch aftermarket prices similar to , Naomi is both earning and learning through the art of collaboration.

“I’ve really been a sponge and have tried to absorb a wealth of knowledge,” Osaka says.

Already at Nike, Naomi has access to top fabrics and expert insight.

“Nike has given her NOC: her own collection that comes out twice a year,” Carly says. “We sit at massive Nike meetings several times a year. She sees samples and is a part of every step of the process. She’s big on having gender-neutral items that everyone can style.”

As expected, Nike’s NOC channel has grown from creative performance tennis apparel to lifestyle looks that fuse innovative fabrics with runway appeal. As alluded to, it’s all part of the bigger picture.

“Naomi really wants to build her brand with an eye for fashion,” says Carly. “A lot of her design ideas are very statement. Going forward, you’re going to see a lot more streetwear-inspired pieces and a lot more elevation.”

Once Osaka is leading her own brand, playing professional tennis will likely be in the rearview and her full attention will be on design.

Though her own brand may be years away, she’s far from taking any breaks when it comes to creating.

Anime, Movies & More

When asking Stuart what Naomi’s next move is, the honest answer is whatever she presents him. Still, he has his own wishes.

“I really want to get into anime,” says Stuart. “She loves anime and she had her own comic series in Japan inside a manga. I would love to have a series whether it’s tennis-related or not where we have animated characters and build a base.”

Already a storyteller, Naomi ascended in the visual arts by having her own series. 2021’s self-titled project was an inside look at Osaka’s life on and off the court.

Detailing not just her tireless training but also her international upbringing, the show touched on her celebrated sister as well as her relationship with Cordae. The music was done by Dev Hynes of Blood Orange fame, scoring the literal soundtrack to her life in a thoughtful fashion.

“The primary mood is disorientation,” Judy Berman of TIME Magazine wrote. “This is another way of saying that Naomi Osaka isn’t like any other sports doc I’ve ever seen.”

Scoring a 92% among critics on Rotten Tomatoes, the Netflix series was more than just a good check. More so, it was instant credibility and connections in the entertainment space. Executive produced by Maverick Carter and , Osaka and Duguid are now partners with the Akron natives.

Moving forward, they’ll release projects through their new production company, Hana Kuma.

“Hana Kuma is built for, designed by, and inspired by Naomi,” Maverick Carter told Boardroom. “Which means it will tell stories that are self-aware and innovative at the same time, just like she is.”

Though the company was not fully formed until June 2022, Hana Kuma already has backing from the likes of Nike and . It’s entirely in line with Carter’s “1+1=3” approach to collaboration and big business for all involved.

“If company X invests in the company, it also guarantees a minimum spend to activate with the company,” Stuart says. “Therefore, everyone is a winner. They’re incentivized to use our production company to make the content and that will in turn for them help the value for them which leads to greater return on their investment.”

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Through production comes power and opportunities otherwise unseen.

“For us, we get to control the narrative of the stuff we do and tell interesting stories that we wouldn’t otherwise,” says Stuart.

Already, Osaka and Stuart have leveraged their success on the court into telling stories off of it.

While Hana Kuma has big plans in 2023 and beyond, their work on screen has already inspired the tennis greats that inspired them.

“Naomi was very successful in using her amazing tennis to propel her career both on and off the court,” told Boardroom. “I know gender equality is especially important to her and I was very pleased to see her as executive producer on a documentary called MINK about Patsy Mink and Title IX.”

As Osaka continues to compete for Grand Slam titles — of which she already has four — tennis will remain her main platform but not her only one.

Whether it’s making movies, making investments, or making clothes, Naomi Osaka’s world is as big as her interests.

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In fact, that’s exactly how she designed it.

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