Naomi Osaka Starts a Media Company, With Help From LeBron James

 

She is a four-time Grand Slam singles champion who ranks because the world’s highest-paid feminine athlete, having earned $57 million in 2021, largely from sponsorships. Walmart lately started to inventory merchandise from her skincare firm, Kinlò, in almost 3,000 areas. Last month, she began a sports activities illustration company.

And now Naomi Osaka is pushing into Hollywood — with an help from LeBron James.

Ms. Osaka, 24, has began a media firm referred to as Hana Kuma in partnership with SpringHill, a fast-growing leisure, advertising and marketing and merchandise firm co-founded by Mr. James. Ms. Osaka mentioned in a temporary Zoom interview that her ambitions for Hana Kuma, which stands for “flower bear” in Japanese, embrace scripted and unscripted tv sequence, documentaries, anime and branded content material, which is leisure programming that has embedded or built-in promoting.

“I actually can’t say if I’ll personally be in something proper now,” Ms. Osaka mentioned. “What excites me is having the ability to encourage folks and inform new tales, notably ones that I’d have needed to see after I was a child. I all the time needed to form of see somebody like me.” Ms. Osaka is of Japanese and Haitian ancestry.

Fans ought to count on Ms. Osaka’s advocacy to underpin at the very least a few of Hana Kuma’s choices, most of that are nonetheless in improvement. Ms. Osaka has been outspoken on matters that many elite sports activities stars attempt to keep away from. She was an early supporter of the Black Lives Matter motion. Last yr, she began a world dialogue about psychological well being in sports activities when she withdrew from the French Open, citing a have to prioritize her personal well-being. She additionally disclosed previous struggles with melancholy and anxiousness.

Ms. Osaka’s candor has resonated with an viewers far past sports activities — younger folks specifically — making her a sponsorship dream though she has lately struggled on the tennis courtroom. (She misplaced within the first spherical of the French Open final month. She mentioned in a social media publish on Saturday that she wouldn’t play at Wimbledon this summer season due to an Achilles’ harm.)

One challenge in improvement entails cooking and the Haitian neighborhood. “I watch a lot of food-related exhibits, cooking competitions, as a result of I wish to prepare dinner,” Ms. Osaka mentioned with a snicker. The first challenge with Hana Kuma credit shall be a New York Times Op-Doc about Patsy Mink, the primary lady of coloration elected to Congress. Hana Kuma can also be engaged on unspecified documentary content material for Epix, a premium cable channel now owned by Amazon.

SpringHill, co-founded by Maverick Carter in 2020, will function a financing, operations and producing accomplice for Hana Kuma. SpringHill has roughly 200 workers and was valued at $725 million when promoting a minority stake to boost capital final yr. Operations embrace a advertising and marketing consultancy and a media and apparel division devoted to athlete empowerment. Another unit focuses on movie and tv manufacturing. There can also be an occasions crew.

“Naomi can simply plug into what now we have constructed,” Mr. Carter mentioned.

SpringHill needs to duplicate the Hana Kuma take care of different athletes who’ve world attraction. “We wish to do a lot extra of this sooner or later,” Mr. Carter mentioned, noting that discussions have began with different sports activities stars.

It should be requested: Isn’t this simply a newfangled self-importance deal? For many years, old-line studios gave favored stars funding to start out affiliated firms, most of which by no means amounted to a lot — apart from conserving the star joyful.

“Under the previous system, typically these ended up being for self-importance,” Mr. Carter mentioned. “But the objective right here is to construct Hana Kuma into a actual firm and a actual model.” SpringHill’s emphasis on branded content material units it other than old-line studios, he added. Hana Kuma has been employed by FTX, a cryptocurrency alternate, to provide branded content material.

Mr. James mentioned by phone that Ms. Osaka’s “grace and energy” on and off the courtroom made her a good match for SpringHill, “which exists to empower athlete creators.”

“We don’t take without any consideration the place we’re in to lend a serving to hand, on this case to Naomi, to assist empower her to do much more nice issues,” Mr. James mentioned.

Ms. Osaka has 12 sponsors, together with Nike, Mastercard, Louis Vuitton and Panasonic. Her longtime agent and enterprise accomplice, Stuart Duguid, mentioned some could possibly be concerned with Hana Kuma content material. Mr. Duguid is a Hana Kuma co-founder.

“We actually wish to deliver that quantity down and have extra in-depth relationships with those that proceed,” Mr. Duguid mentioned, referring to company sponsors. “We wish to take greater swings and begin firms, spend money on firms, issues which may have doubtlessly a greater end result than in case you did a McDonald’s deal and acquired paid yr to yr. What will actually transfer the needle?”

Building a portfolio of companies — whereas nonetheless in the midst of her tennis profession — makes Ms. Osaka one thing of a pioneer amongst feminine athletes. At least, it would if she succeeds.

“We haven’t seen any feminine athlete do something like what we are attempting to realize,” Mr. Duguid mentioned. “Serena has finished properly together with her enterprise enterprise. But she’s towards the tip of her profession and, you understand, we’re within the center.” He was referring to the tennis legend Serena Williams, whose enterprise capital agency, Serena Ventures, has raised an inaugural fund of $111 million to spend money on founders with numerous factors of view.

Because she continues to be enjoying tennis, Ms. Osaka won’t be sitting in on many manufacturing conferences. “But every little thing inventive and every little thing strategic, it’s clearly going to have Naomi’s stamp on it and her type and her enter,” Mr. Duguid mentioned.


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