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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 female athlete, having earned $57 million in 2021, mostly from sponsorships. Walmart recently began to stock products from her skincare company, Kinlò, in nearly 3,000 locations. Last month, she began a sports representation agency.

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

Ms. Osaka, 24, has began a media company called Hana Kuma in partnership with SpringHill, a fast-growing entertainment, marketing and products company co-founded by Mr. James. Ms. Osaka said in a transient Zoom interview that her ambitions for Hana Kuma, which stands for “flower bear” in Japanese, include scripted and unscripted television series, documentaries, anime and branded content, which is entertainment programming that has embedded or integrated promoting.

“I truthfully can’t say if I’ll personally be in anything straight away,” Ms. Osaka said. “What excites me is with the ability to encourage people and tell latest stories, particularly ones that I might have desired to see once I was a child. I at all times desired to sort of see someone like me.” Ms. Osaka is of Japanese and Haitian ancestry.

Fans should expect Ms. Osaka’s advocacy to underpin at the least a few of Hana Kuma’s offerings, most of that are still in development. Ms. Osaka has been outspoken on topics that many elite sports stars attempt to avoid. She was an early supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. Last yr, she began a worldwide discussion about mental health in sports when she withdrew from the French Open, citing a must prioritize her own well-being. She also disclosed past struggles with depression and anxiety.

Ms. Osaka’s candor has resonated with an audience far beyond sports — young people specifically — making her a sponsorship dream although she has recently struggled on the tennis court. (She lost in the primary round of the French Open last month. She said in a social media post on Saturday that she wouldn’t play at Wimbledon this summer due to an Achilles’ injury.)

One project in development involves cooking and the Haitian community. “I watch numerous food-related shows, cooking competitions, because I prefer to cook,” Ms. Osaka said with fun. The primary project with Hana Kuma credits might be a Recent York Times Op-Doc about Patsy Mink, the primary woman of color elected to Congress. Hana Kuma can be working on unspecified documentary content 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 partner for Hana Kuma. SpringHill has roughly 200 employees and was valued at $725 million when selling a minority stake to boost capital last yr. Operations include a marketing consultancy and a media and apparel division dedicated to athlete empowerment. One other unit focuses on film and tv production. There may be also an events team.

“Naomi can just plug into what now we have built,” Mr. Carter said.

SpringHill wants to copy the Hana Kuma take care of other athletes who’ve global appeal. “We would like to do quite a bit more of this in the long run,” Mr. Carter said, noting that discussions have began with other sports stars.

It should be asked: Isn’t this only a newfangled vanity deal? For a long time, old-line studios gave favored stars funding to begin affiliated corporations, most of which never amounted to much — except for keeping the star comfortable.

“Under the old system, sometimes those ended up being for vanity,” Mr. Carter said. “However the goal here is to construct Hana Kuma right into a real company and an actual brand.” SpringHill’s emphasis on branded content sets it aside from old-line studios, he added. Hana Kuma has been hired by FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange, to supply branded content.

Mr. James said by telephone that Ms. Osaka’s “grace and power” on and off the court made her an excellent match for SpringHill, “which exists to empower athlete creators.”

“We don’t take with no consideration the position we’re in to lend a helping hand, on this case to Naomi, to assist empower her to do much more great things,” Mr. James said.

Ms. Osaka has 12 sponsors, including Nike, Mastercard, Louis Vuitton and Panasonic. Her longtime agent and business partner, Stuart Duguid, said some may very well be involved with Hana Kuma content. Mr. Duguid is a Hana Kuma co-founder.

“We really need to bring that number down and have more in-depth relationships with those that proceed,” Mr. Duguid said, referring to corporate sponsors. “We would like to take greater swings and begin corporations, put money into corporations, things that might need potentially a much bigger final result than for those who did a McDonald’s deal and got paid yr to yr. What is going to really move the needle?”

Constructing a portfolio of companies — while still in the midst of her tennis profession — makes Ms. Osaka something of a pioneer amongst female athletes. Not less than, it would if she succeeds.

“We haven’t seen any female athlete do anything like what we are attempting to attain,” Mr. Duguid said. “Serena has done well together with her enterprise business. But she’s toward the tip of her profession and, you realize, we’re in the center.” He was referring to the tennis legend Serena Williams, whose enterprise capital firm, Serena Ventures, has raised an inaugural fund of $111 million to take a position in founders with diverse points of view.

Because she remains to be playing tennis, Ms. Osaka is not going to be sitting in on many production meetings. “But all the pieces creative and all the pieces strategic, it’s obviously going to have Naomi’s stamp on it and her style and her input,” Mr. Duguid said.

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