Naomi Osaka is just an ordinary young woman, a touch shy, but endearingly so, a self-proclaimed nerd. But when she takes to the court an extraordinary talent is revealed.
A new kind of star, one that doesn’t come across like stars of the past. A perfect storm of likability and ruthless hitting, ready to dominate the tennis landscape.
In the US Open final, Osaka confronted another kind of storm, that of dissent. As boos rained down on Arthur Ashe, the Japanese youngster held her nerve to close out an impossibly comprehensive first slam.
In doing so she more than proved her mettle. She became a true force of the game. Proving, as if it was needed, that in women’s tennis there is no substitute for big hitting.
Osaka’s agent has wasted little time capitalising on her new slam winner status. A three-year deal with Nissan and a re-negotiated record-breaking $8.5m deal with Adidas swiftly followed.
And it’s not just the player reaping rewards. Her racket sponsor, Japanese brand Yonex, saw their shares value rise by 10% after Osaka’s win.
Other existing sponsors Nissin foods, broadcasting company Wowow, and Citizen Watches, who signed on just before the Open, will all have likely seen a very healthy ROI.
As a sponsorship opportunity, Osaka seemingly represents as safe a bet as any.
She has a sense of humour, a quirky character, refreshingly very much herself. Traits that people warm to in a world where authenticity is king.
She clearly has the tennis ability and the ‘right’ attitude. Her first slam win was no fluke. To be seventh in the world rankings at the age of just 20 requires a certain level of consistency.
But what really gets brands excited is her instant global appeal, particularly to the American and Asian markets. Tying the two together offers untold opportunities.
The power of the American market is obvious, just look across the net at the woman she beat that night. However, it is the Asian market that could prove exponentially more influential.
Li Na was the first to unlock this influence, picking up $43m in endorsements overnight, after winning the 2011 French Open.
Kei Nishikori, further illustrates this point. Sitting #35 in the Forbes list of highest paid athletes. Third among tennis players, with only Rafael Nadal #20 and Roger Federer #7 above him.
Putting that into context, Novak Djokovic sits at #86 in the Forbes list, and if we compare their career stats (illustrated below), Djokovic comes out on top on every level.
|Slam Wins||Total Titles||Highest Ranking||Career $|
However, Nishikori’s pull in the Asian market bridges the gap on a commercial level. Nishikori has been the stand-alone star of Asian tennis in recent years. Djokovic has to share his continent with not one, but two G.O.A.T’s.
The Asian market alone has the power to propel Osaka towards the top of the women’s endorsement rankings, which currently features names such as Wozniacki, Stephens, Mugaruza and guess who else!?
But with both the Asian and American markets under her thumb, Osaka’s rise towards the top of that list looks a certainty. Particularly given that Nishikori made his dent without even winning a slam.
Now all Osaka needs to galvanise this cocktail is a big event. Somewhere to fly the flag for Japan, whipping her fanbase into a frenzy.
Look no further than the Tokyo Olympics. If Osaka’s upward trend continues, expect her to be the face of the games come 2020. It’s a perfect Storm!
Think Jessica Ennis at London 2012, and magnify that feeling across an entire continent. The pressure would be unfathomable, the fever irresistible.
The marketing opportunities surrounding the Olyimpics alone, properly handled by Osaka’s team, could launch her into the sports marketing stratosphere.
And if she were to win gold? Imagine the scenes. Not even a repeat of the US Open drama could spoil that party!