Naomi Osaka sets up a media company with the help of LeBron James

She is a four-time grand slam singles champion who is the world’s highest-paying female athlete, earning $ 57 million in 2021, mainly through sponsorship. Walmart recently began stocking its skin care company Kinlò products at nearly 3,000 locations. Last month, he founded a sports agency.

And now Naomi Osaka is penetrating Hollywood – with the help of LeBron James.

Mrs. Osaka, 24, has founded a media company called Hana Kuma in partnership with SpringHill, a fast-growing entertainment, marketing and product company founded by Mr. James. Ms Osaka said in a short interview with Zoom that her ambitions for Hana Kuma, which means “flower bear” in Japanese, include screened and unscheduled TV series, documentaries, anime and branded content that are entertainment programs that contain embedded or integrated advertising. .

“Honestly, I can’t say if I’m personally involved in anything right now,” Ms Osaka said. “I’m excited to be able to inspire people and tell new stories, especially the ones I wanted to see as a child. I’ve always wanted to see someone like me.” Mrs. Osaka is of Japanese and Haitian descent.

Fans should expect that Ms. Osaka’s promotion will support at least some of Hana Kuma’s offerings, most of which are still under development. Mrs Osaka has been straightforward on the issues that many top sports stars are trying to avoid. He was an early supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. Last year, he launched a global debate on the mental health of sport when France gave up the need to prioritize its own well-being. He also revealed previous struggles with depression and anxiety.

Ms Osaka’s openness has also resonated with audiences beyond sports, especially young people, making her a sponsorship dream, although she has recently struggled on the tennis court. (He lost to France in the first round of the open last month. He said in a social media post on Saturday that he would not be playing at Wimbledon this summer due to an Achilles injury.)

One project under development involves cooking and the Haitian community. “I watch a lot of food shows, cooking competitions because I like to cook,” Ms. Osaka said with a laugh. Hana Kuma’s first titled project is from New York Times’ Op-Doc Patsy Mink, the first colored woman to be elected to Congress. Hana Kuma is also working on unspecified documentary content for Epix, which is now a premium cable channel owned by Amazon.

SpringHill, founded in 2020 by Maverick Carter, is Hana Kuma’s financing, operations and manufacturing partner. SpringHill has about 200 employees and was valued at $ 725 million in the sale of a minority stake last year. Activities include marketing consulting and a media and apparel department dedicated to empowering athletes. The second unit focuses on film and television production. There is also a team of events.

“Naomi can easily connect to what we have built,” Mr Carter said.

SpringHill wants to repeat Hana Kuma’s contract with other athletes with global appeal. “We want to do a lot more in the future,” Mr Carter said, noting that discussions had begun with other sports stars.

The question is: isn’t this just a new vanity deal? For decades, old-fashioned studios funded the establishment of affiliates with preferred stars, most of which were never many – other than keeping the star happy.

“Under the old system, these were sometimes vanities,” Mr Carter said. “But here the goal is to make Hana Kuma a real company and a real brand.” SpringHill’s emphasis on branded content sets it apart from the old studios, he added. The cryptocurrency exchange FTX has hired Hana Kuma to produce branded content.

Mr James said by telephone that Mrs Osaka’s “grace and strength” both on and off the pitch was matched by SpringHill, “which is there to give strength to athletes’ creators.”

“We do not take it for granted that we are reaching out to Naomi to help her do even bigger things,” Mr James said.

Ms. Osaka has 12 sponsors, including Nike, Mastercard, Louis Vuitton and Panasonic. His longtime agent and business partner, Stuart Duguid, said some may be involved in Hana Kuma’s content. Mr. Duguid is the co-founder of Hana Kuma.

“We really want to reduce that number and build a deeper relationship with those who continue,” Mr Duguid said, referring to corporate sponsors. “We want to make bigger turns and start businesses, invest in companies – things that could potentially have a bigger impact than if you made a McDonalds deal and got paid year after year. What is really moving the needle? ”

Creating a portfolio of companies – still in the middle of a tennis career – makes Mrs. Osaka a pioneer among female athletes. At least he succeeds if he succeeds.

“We have not seen any female athletes do anything the way we are trying to achieve,” Mr Duguid said. “Serenal has done well with her venture. But she’s at the end of her career and you know, we’re in the middle.” He was referring to tennis legend Serena Williams, whose venture capital firm Serena Ventures has raised $ 111 million in an open-ended fund to invest in founders from different perspectives.

As she still plays tennis, Ms Osaka does not attend many production meetings. “But all creative and strategic, it probably has Naomi Temple and her style and her contribution,” Mr Duguid said.

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