Osaka go for big money with Japan, global appeal
— Naomi Osaka used a powerful forehand and a matching serve to win the U.S. Open against Serena Williams two months ago, soaring as high as No. 4 this season in the WTA tennis rankings.
Off the court — on the marketing front — she has the same potential. Maybe more.
“It’s very, very rare to find a Japanese-born female athlete who appeals to an international audience,” said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert and creative director at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco, California.
Serena Williams topped the Forbes list of the highest-earning female athletes this year at $18 million, almost all endorsements. Osaka appears to be the right woman in the right sport at the right time with the draw to overtake Williams.
“What’s more, tennis, especially women’s tennis, is a sport that lends itself to a broad variety of sponsors: sporting goods, health and beauty, fashion, lifestyle, travel, personal care, you name it,” Dorfman said. “And the sport’s international following brings with it a large, loyal and affluent fan base. All the more reason why so many companies are lining up to sign her up.”
The big question is: Can she keep this up?
Much has happened very quickly for her, notes former tennis star Chris Evert.
“You know, it’s going to be life-changing for her and very, very important,” Evert said. “From what I see, she is very humble and from what I see, her parents are very humble people. Hopefully they won’t go Hollywood on us. We don’t want that to happen.”
Osaka’s multicultural background — Japan-born but raised in the U.S. by a Haitian-American father and a Japanese mother — adds to her wide appeal, endearing her to fans in Japan and elsewhere.
Her disarming charm, off and on the court, including how she handled the turmoil surrounding her win over Williams, is also winning people over.
“She appeals to the young and old, men and women, everyone,” said Shigeru Tanaka, advertising manager at Citizen, her sponsor since August. Tokyo-based Citizen Watch Co.’s 80,000 yen ($700) Naomi Osa- ka watch is selling out at stores in Japan, thanks to the exposure it got on her wrist at the U.S. Open.
Citizen was quick to take advantage of her Grand Slam win, taking out a one-third page ad in the Yomiuri newspaper’s extra edition report of her win. Companies won’t say how much her contracts are worth, but they tend to be written so that if she keeps winning, her earnings will keep going up.
U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka is presented with a gift from Haiti's President Jovenel Moise and first lady Martine Etienne Joseph during a welcoming ceremony at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday. The Haitian-Japanese tennis star is in the Caribbean for a 5-day visit.