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Naomi Osaka Beats Serena Williams To Become The Highest-Paid Athlete Ever

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The 22-year-old Japanese tennis player racked up $37 million in earnings in the past year, more than any other female athlete in history.

Naomi Osaka was only a year old when Serena Williams won her first grand slam title in 1999. Nineteen years later, Osaka beat Williams at the U.S. Open finals to win her first grand slam. It was one of the most controversial matches in Open history involving three code violations called against Williams. Now the 22-year-old ace has beaten her legendary rival once again, this time for bragging rights as the highest-paid female athlete in the world.

Osaka earned $37.4 million the last 12 months from prize money and endorsements, $1.4 million more than Serena, setting an all-time earnings record for any female athlete in a single year; Maria Sharapova held the prior record with $29.7 million in 2015.

Osaka ranks No. 29 among the 100 highest-paid athletes, while Williams is No. 33. It’s the first time since 2016 that two women have made the ranks of the top 100 highest paid athletes, with the full 2020 list set for release next week.

“To those outside the tennis world, Osaka is a relatively fresh face with a great back story,” says David Carter, a sports business professor at USC Marshall School of Business. “Combine that with being youthful and bicultural, two attributes that help her resonate with younger, global audiences, and the result is the emergence of a global sports marketing icon.”

The ascension puts an end to a decisive winning streak for Williams, who has been the world’s highest-paid female athlete each of the past four years, with annual pre-tax income ranging from $18 million to $29 million. The 23-time grand slam champion has collected almost $300 million during her career from endorsers who have swarmed the 38-year-old star.

Osaka’s rise to the head of the charts was a perfect  convergence of several factors. She first proved herself on the court, with back-to-back grand slam titles at the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open. That plus her heritage—a Japanese mother and Haitian-American father—helped separate her from the pack; at only 20 when she won her Open title, she had a cool factor and engaging personality.

Osaka’s roots are crucial to her endorsement stardom. She was born in Japan. When she was three, she and her family moved to the U.S., settling on Long Island and then heading to Florida; older sister, Mari, also plays on the pro circuit.

She turned pro in 2014, a month before her 16th birthday. She cracked the WTA’s top 40 in 2016 and won her first title in March 2018 at Indian Wells. In the 12 months that followed, she became the first Japanese player to win a slam, and first Asian tennis player ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world.

Osaka maintains dual citizenship but made the wise choice to represent Japan ahead of the since-postponed Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. The decision made her an even hotter commodity for Olympic sponsors, like Procter & Gamble, All Nippon Airways and Nissin, who signed endorsement deals with Osaka to use her around marketing for the Games, now scheduled for summer 2021. She is expected to be one of the faces of the Olympics that had triggered unprecedented levels of excitement among the Japanese public before the coronavirus.

A Decade Of Highest-Paid Female Athletes

Tennis has been a winning strategy for highest-paid female athletes. Before Naomi Osaka arrived on the scene, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams were the top earning women of the decade, holding the top spot for five and four years, respectively.

The last top-earning female athlete, outside of Williams and Sharapova, was Serena’s sister Venus in 2003. Tennis remains the only route for women to rank among the top-paid male sports stars. Sharapova, Li Na, Serena, and now Osaka are the only females to rank among the 100 top earners in sports since 2012. The highest-paid female athlete every year since Forbes started tracking the data in 1990 has been a tennis player, with Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis the top earners most of the 1990s. 

Tennis players are walking billboards in the only major global sport where men and women have some level of equality in their paychecks, thanks to similarly sized audiences tuning in to watch tournaments. Prize money at the four grand slam events has been even since 2007, although men still earn more at lower level tourneys.

The demographics of the tennis fan make sponsoring top players attractive for brands. At the U.S. Open last year, attendance skewed in favor of women by a ratio of 56 to 44, a rarity at big time sporting events; 78% held at least a bachelor’s degree versus 35% for the U.S. overall; the average household income was $216,000. This is a group with significant disposable income, ready to buy apparel, sporting equipment, cars, watches and financial services.

Steering Osaka’s brand is tennis powerhouse agency IMG, which leaned on its history with breakout female tennis stars when Osaka started blowing up, having represented Maria Sharapova and Li. Stuart Duguid is her lead agent at IMG.

The apparel deal is almost always the biggest endorsement for tennis stars, and Osaka’s timing was perfect there as well, as she hit the open market just after winning two grand slams. It triggered a free agency bidding war between Nike and Adidas—her previous apparel sponsor. The Swoosh emerged on top and paid her more than $10 million last year in an agreement that runs through 2025.

Osaka secured an extremely rare but lucrative provision in her Nike contract. The sportswear giant always requires its tennis players to be clad in Nike gear from head to toe, without any other logos on their shirts or hats. This is lucrative real estate for marketers, as cameras focus closely on the player as they serve or get set to return serve.

Nike never made an exemption for Serena, Sharapova, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi or any of the other marketable tennis stars in their stable. The only exception until last year was China’s Li Na; Osaka was the second, thanks to massive leverage with Sharapova headed for retirement and Williams turning 39 this year. Her “patch” deals are with All Nippon Airways, MasterCard and ramen noodle maker Nissin Foods.

Nike plans to launch an Osaka streetwear line in Japan in the fourth quarter, featuring hoodies, leggings and shirts, as well as a new collection each season. There will not be any tennis apparel.

Osaka now has 15 endorsement partners, including global brands like Nissan Motor, Shiseido and Yonex, whose tennis racquets she has used for more than a decade; almost all are worth seven-figures annually. 

Sharapova was 17 when she defeated Williams to win the 2004 Wimbledon crown. IMG quickly mobilized to lock up lucrative long-term deals for the Russian, who ranked as the highest-paid female athlete for 11 years before injuries and a suspension for taking a banned substance dented her earnings.

IMG got an education on marketing a female Asian tennis star with China’s Li. She was the first grand slam singles champion from Asia, man or woman, when she captured the 2011 French Open at age 29. IMG quickly secured seven multi-million deals, pushing her off-court earnings from $2 million to $20 million. She challenged Sharapova as the sport’s top earner until her retirement in 2014.

IMG used its expertise in Japan with Kei Nishikori, who has never won a grand slam but is the most successful Japanese male player ever, resulting in an endorsement portfolio worth $30 million a year.

Sharapova, Li and Nishikori paved the way for Osaka’s marketing breakthrough. “We were fortunate to have a very sophisticated office in Tokyo that already had the experience with Kei,” IMG’s head of tennis Max Eisenbud told Forbes last year. “The relationships in that region are important.”

With plenty of endorsement cash, Osaka partnered with several brands last year, with significant equity components, including emerging sports drink BodyArmor and Hyperice, which makes recovery and movement products.

BodyArmor marketing exec Mike Fedele says Osaka was one of inspirations for its “Only You” ad campaign launched this week. “Naomi is fiercely dedicated to perfecting her game on the court and a huge part of that is what she does off the court with her training, nutrition and hydration,”he says.

“I’m really interested in seeing a young business grow and adding value to that process,” Osaka told Forbes last year. “I tasked my team with finding brands that align with my personality and my interests.”

Brands are lining up to get into the Naomi Osaka business.

The 22-year-old Japanese tennis player racked up $37 million in earnings in the past year, more than any other female athlete in history.

Naomi Osaka was only a year old when Serena Williams won her first grand slam title in 1999. Nineteen years later, Osaka beat Williams at the U.S. Open finals to win her first grand slam. It was one of the most controversial matches in Open history involving three code violations called against Williams. Now the 22-year-old ace has beaten her legendary rival once again, this time for bragging rights as the highest-paid female athlete in the world.

Osaka earned $37.4 million the last 12 months from prize money and endorsements, $1.4 million more than Serena, setting an all-time earnings record for any female athlete in a single year; Maria Sharapova held the prior record with $29.7 million in 2015.

Osaka ranks No. 29 among the 100 highest-paid athletes, while Williams is No. 33. It’s the first time since 2016 that two women have made the ranks of the top 100 highest paid athletes, with the full 2020 list set for release next week.

“To those outside the tennis world, Osaka is a relatively fresh face with a great back story,” says David Carter, a sports business professor at USC Marshall School of Business. “Combine that with being youthful and bicultural, two attributes that help her resonate with younger, global audiences, and the result is the emergence of a global sports marketing icon.”

The ascension puts an end to a decisive winning streak for Williams, who has been the world’s highest-paid female athlete each of the past four years, with annual pre-tax income ranging from $18 million to $29 million. The 23-time grand slam champion has collected almost $300 million during her career from endorsers who have swarmed the 38-year-old star.

Osaka’s rise to the head of the charts was a perfect  convergence of several factors. She first proved herself on the court, with back-to-back grand slam titles at the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open. That plus her heritage—a Japanese mother and Haitian-American father—helped separate her from the pack; at only 20 when she won her Open title, she had a cool factor and engaging personality.

Osaka’s roots are crucial to her endorsement stardom. She was born in Japan. When she was three, she and her family moved to the U.S., settling on Long Island and then heading to Florida; older sister, Mari, also plays on the pro circuit.

She turned pro in 2014, a month before her 16th birthday. She cracked the WTA’s top 40 in 2016 and won her first title in March 2018 at Indian Wells. In the 12 months that followed, she became the first Japanese player to win a slam, and first Asian tennis player ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world.

Osaka maintains dual citizenship but made the wise choice to represent Japan ahead of the since-postponed Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. The decision made her an even hotter commodity for Olympic sponsors, like Procter & Gamble, All Nippon Airways and Nissin, who signed endorsement deals with Osaka to use her around marketing for the Games, now scheduled for summer 2021. She is expected to be one of the faces of the Olympics that had triggered unprecedented levels of excitement among the Japanese public before the coronavirus.

A Decade Of Highest-Paid Female Athletes

Tennis has been a winning strategy for highest-paid female athletes. Before Naomi Osaka arrived on the scene, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams were the top earning women of the decade, holding the top spot for five and four years, respectively.

The last top-earning female athlete, outside of Williams and Sharapova, was Serena’s sister Venus in 2003. Tennis remains the only route for women to rank among the top-paid male sports stars. Sharapova, Li Na, Serena, and now Osaka are the only females to rank among the 100 top earners in sports since 2012. The highest-paid female athlete every year since Forbes started tracking the data in 1990 has been a tennis player, with Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis the top earners most of the 1990s. 

Tennis players are walking billboards in the only major global sport where men and women have some level of equality in their paychecks, thanks to similarly sized audiences tuning in to watch tournaments. Prize money at the four grand slam events has been even since 2007, although men still earn more at lower level tourneys.

The demographics of the tennis fan make sponsoring top players attractive for brands. At the U.S. Open last year, attendance skewed in favor of women by a ratio of 56 to 44, a rarity at big time sporting events; 78% held at least a bachelor’s degree versus 35% for the U.S. overall; the average household income was $216,000. This is a group with significant disposable income, ready to buy apparel, sporting equipment, cars, watches and financial services.

Steering Osaka’s brand is tennis powerhouse agency IMG, which leaned on its history with breakout female tennis stars when Osaka started blowing up, having represented Maria Sharapova and Li. Stuart Duguid is her lead agent at IMG.

The apparel deal is almost always the biggest endorsement for tennis stars, and Osaka’s timing was perfect there as well, as she hit the open market just after winning two grand slams. It triggered a free agency bidding war between Nike and Adidas—her previous apparel sponsor. The Swoosh emerged on top and paid her more than $10 million last year in an agreement that runs through 2025.

Osaka secured an extremely rare but lucrative provision in her Nike contract. The sportswear giant always requires its tennis players to be clad in Nike gear from head to toe, without any other logos on their shirts or hats. This is lucrative real estate for marketers, as cameras focus closely on the player as they serve or get set to return serve.

Nike never made an exemption for Serena, Sharapova, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi or any of the other marketable tennis stars in their stable. The only exception until last year was China’s Li Na; Osaka was the second, thanks to massive leverage with Sharapova headed for retirement and Williams turning 39 this year. Her “patch” deals are with All Nippon Airways, MasterCard and ramen noodle maker Nissin Foods.

Nike plans to launch an Osaka streetwear line in Japan in the fourth quarter, featuring hoodies, leggings and shirts, as well as a new collection each season. There will not be any tennis apparel.

Osaka now has 15 endorsement partners, including global brands like Nissan Motor, Shiseido and Yonex, whose tennis racquets she has used for more than a decade; almost all are worth seven-figures annually. 

Sharapova was 17 when she defeated Williams to win the 2004 Wimbledon crown. IMG quickly mobilized to lock up lucrative long-term deals for the Russian, who ranked as the highest-paid female athlete for 11 years before injuries and a suspension for taking a banned substance dented her earnings.

IMG got an education on marketing a female Asian tennis star with China’s Li. She was the first grand slam singles champion from Asia, man or woman, when she captured the 2011 French Open at age 29. IMG quickly secured seven multi-million deals, pushing her off-court earnings from $2 million to $20 million. She challenged Sharapova as the sport’s top earner until her retirement in 2014.

IMG used its expertise in Japan with Kei Nishikori, who has never won a grand slam but is the most successful Japanese male player ever, resulting in an endorsement portfolio worth $30 million a year.

Sharapova, Li and Nishikori paved the way for Osaka’s marketing breakthrough. “We were fortunate to have a very sophisticated office in Tokyo that already had the experience with Kei,” IMG’s head of tennis Max Eisenbud told Forbes last year. “The relationships in that region are important.”

With plenty of endorsement cash, Osaka partnered with several brands last year, with significant equity components, including emerging sports drink BodyArmor and Hyperice, which makes recovery and movement products.

BodyArmor marketing exec Mike Fedele says Osaka was one of inspirations for its “Only You” ad campaign launched this week. “Naomi is fiercely dedicated to perfecting her game on the court and a huge part of that is what she does off the court with her training, nutrition and hydration,”he says.

“I’m really interested in seeing a young business grow and adding value to that process,” Osaka told Forbes last year. “I tasked my team with finding brands that align with my personality and my interests.”

Brands are lining up to get into the Naomi Osaka business.

–Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes Staff, SportsMoney

Sports

Roger Federer Tops World’s Highest-Paid Athletes

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Roger Federer has landed the top spot on the annual Forbes list of the highest-paid athletes for the first time this year with $106.3 million in pre-tax earnings. The Swiss ace is the first tennis player to take the No. 1 rank since the list debuted in 1990.

Federer’s haul includes $6.3 million in prize money and $100 million from endorsements and appearance fees, lifting him from the No. 5 spot he held in 2019 and beating his previous high of second place in 2013.

“His brand is pristine,” says David Carter, a sports business professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business, “which is why those that can afford to align with him clamor to do so.”

Federer’s endorsement portfolio is unmatched among active athletes, with 13 brands including Barilla, Moet & Chandon and Rimowa paying between $3 million and $30 million to associate themselves with the 20-time Grand Slam champ. The 38-year-old and golfer Tiger Woods are the only two active athletes to have hit $100 million in a single year from sponsorships alone.

Federer’s on-court résumé is the stuff of legend, with the men’s records for most Slam titles and most weeks ranked No. 1 (310). The consistency is staggering. He ranked in the top three for 750 straight weeks—almost 15 years—and qualified for 18 out of 19 Slam finals between 2005 and 2010.

Call it the Jordan playbook, the blueprint for global domination chronicled in ESPN’s ten-part documentary on the basketball great, The Last Dance: command a sport with a global audience for years; appeal to both men and women; stay out of trouble; add in a dose of swagger and a dash of charisma. It made Michael Jordan the richest athlete on the planet and the first billionaire athlete. Even in retirement, he continues to collect endorsement checks rivaling those of Federer and Woods thanks to his massive cut of Nike Jordan Brand sneaker sales.

The three breathe a rarefied air, reserved for the most elite competitors. Jordan had the No. 1 spot on the Forbes list six times during his 13-year career with the Chicago Bulls, eventually giving up the mantle to Woods after he retired from the Bulls in 1998. (Formula One’s Michael Schumacher held the crown for two years between Woods and Jordan.) Woods went on to collect more than $100 million annually off the course at his peak, landing at the top of Forbes’ highest-paid athlete ranking a record 12 times until he broke stride, landing in hot water over an infidelity scandal while injuries contributed to a decade-long majors title drought on the links.

Federer, while seizing the top spot late in his career, is showing no signs of slowing down. His latest partnership is with Swiss startup running shoe On, whose headquarters sit close to the new home the tennis star is building on Lake Zurich. A renowned sneakerhead, Federer will endorse the brand, whose sales have been doubling annually since its 2010 launch, and also invested in the company in return for an equity stake that one source called “significant,” a partnership that could have serious upside for Federer.

Another sign of his command of the off-court side hustle: Once companies align themselves with him, they almost never leave. Rolex, Credit Suisse, Mercedes-Benz and Wilson have all been on Team Fed for more than a decade. The exception? Jordan’s Nike.

Federer stunned the tennis world in 2018 when he split from the sneaker giant after 20 years and joined with apparel brand Uniqlo. The chain, part of Fast Retailing, made an offer he couldn’t turn down, promising $300 million over ten years whether he was playing tennis or not and leaving open a slot for a shoe deal like the one with On since the Japanese giant doesn’t make sneakers.

The length and terms of the deal raised eyebrows given that Federer was about to turn 37 when he signed it. At that age, almost all tennis players have long since retired—a detail that meant little to the long game the retailer is eyeing.

“We feel the greatest impact of Roger Federer is yet to come,” says Uniqlo’s head of global creative John Jay. “Of course, it will be fueled by his status as the greatest of all time, but Roger’s ability to bring positive change to the world is his future and ours.”

The company hopes Federer can hold the same kind of appeal Jordan still has long after he launched his last jump shot. Already, tennis clubs in Europe are flooded with kids wearing “RF” hats, the logo that Nike controlled for two years after the split but is back in Federer’s hands and is the foundation for future licensing deals.

It wasn’t his only shrewd move. Federer took more control of his brand when he left the IMG sports firm with longtime agent Tony Godsick to launch their own operation in 2013, dubbed TEAM8. Current clients include male tennis pros Juan Martin del Potro and Alexander Zverev, 16-year-old rising star Coco Gauff and New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. TEAM8 also found success with the creation of a new annual event, the Laver Cup, which matches a team from Europe versus the rest of the world in a competition that is comparable to golf’s Ryder Cup.

Federer has other levers in the sport that even Jordan doesn’t have. He is a hot commodity for organizers of smaller tournaments that pay appearance fees for top players to show up; a men’s event without one of the Big Three—Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic—is a tough sell. Federer commands the top rate of more than $1 million per stop. Then there are the exhibition tours—a mix of tennis and show business—in places that have no major event to offer. He did a five-stop swing through Latin America in November that added more than $15 million to his bank account, including a match versus Zverev in a bullfighting stadium in Mexico City that attracted 42,517 fans, a record to watch a tennis match.

Federer has used his platform and cash to focus on educating children in Africa, with his namesake foundation spending $52 million to aid 1.5 million kids. He’s teamed with Bill Gates in charity matches three times; the latest “Match for Africa” featured Gates and Federer versus Nadal and The Daily Show host Trevor Noah in South Africa, where Federer’s mother was born. The February event raised $3.7 million.

Federer is the GOAT, both on and off the court.

–Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes Staff, SportsMoney

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“Beefs Enable The Creative Industry – Former Juventus Star, Stephen Appiah, Reveals

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Ghanaian retired footballer, Stephen Appiah says beefs are normal in the showbiz industry.

The ace footballer, speaking with JoyNews’ Doreen Avio said it is a normal trend outside the country and must be adopted in a positive way.

“Today, nothing is going on, and we have been hearing about “beefs”. It is part of the entertainment industry. When you go to America, it happens all the time but we hope it is not going to be too much.

“When it comes to beefs, we have to know the kind of words we use. They should just watch the things that they say,” he cautioned.

The former Ghanaian international footballer also said, if showbiz players are able to plan well, the industry can be better after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Everything is planning, so if they plan well, the industry can even be better.”

He was optimistic the pandemic will soon be over, so life can return to normal.

“We are praying it goes away soon so that we can go back to our normal lives and whatever we used to do and also enjoy ourselves.”

Over the weekend, musician Sista Afia apologised to her colleague Freda Rhymz, after an attack at the premises of Media General.

The confrontation followed a week long feud between the two singers and Kumasi rap goddess, Eno Barony.

– Doreen Avio/Joy News

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CONFIRMED: Man United Extend Ighalo Loan Deal

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Manchester United have reached agreement with Shanghai Greenland Shenhua to extend the loan deal for Odion Ighalo.

The Nigerian striker’s stay was initially due to end on 31 May but he will now remain with the Reds until 31 January 2021, enabling him to build on an impressive start to life with the club he supported as a boy.

Ighalo’s tally of four goals in eight appearances so far includes at least one strike in each of his three starts – against Club Brugge, Derby County (2) and LASK.

Today’s confirmation is a timely boost for United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, as he continues to prepare his squad for this month’s resumption of competitive football.

The Premier League’s proposed return date is 17 June and the Emirates FA Cup quarter-finals have been lined up for the weekend of 27 and 28 June. However, the actual fixtures are still to be finalised and ManUtd.com will publish all the details of United’s rescheduled games in due course.

Ighalo will now hope to pick up from where he left off, after winning United’s Goal of the Month award for March with a stunning strike in our last match, the impressive 5-0 victory over Austrian club LASK in the Europa League.

That last-16, first-leg game at Linzer Stadion on Thursday 12 March was a sign of things to come, as it was played behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That will also be the case for all remaining fixtures in 2019/20.

Solskjaer discussed the outlook for Ighalo’s loan deal last week, when he appeared as a special guest on MUTV Group Chat.

The manager said:

“They [Shanghai Greenland Shenhua] have been great towards us, allowing him to play for his dream club. It’s been a dream for him and hopefully he can finish what he started and win a trophy with us.”

– Manchester United

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I Have Never Had A Bad Relationship With Former President Nyantakyi – GFA President, Kurt Okraku

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GREATER ACCRA – Wednesday, May 27, 2020/www.gbafrica.net/ – Ghana Football Association president Kurt Okraku says he has a good relationship with former FA boss Kwesi Nyantakyi after reports of a fallout.

Reports were rife in the local media that the current FA president has issues with his former boss after winning the GFA Presidential elections in October last year.

But Kurt has refuted any bad blood between him and Kwesi Nyantakyi.

“I have never had a bad relationship with former president Nyantakyi in fact from Nana Sam Brew Butler when Nana was the FA chairman, I was a practicing journalist,” Okraku is quoted saying by Starrfmonline.

“I have got a relationship with him, Alhaji Lepowura MND Jawula, Kwesi Nyantakyi, Kofi Amoah and I have never had a bad relationship with the leaders of this Association and I feel good about this.

“I hope that when I exit, whoever takes over will also have a good relationship with me,” he added.

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