Osaka who was the first Asian player to hold the top slot in Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) ranking and the first Japanese player to bag a Grand Slam event, has parted ways with IMG to start her own agency Evolve. She will be undertaking this venture with her long-time agent Stuart Duguid, who has also left IMG. The move comes after her contract with IMG expired at the end of 2021, and it became clear that renewal would no longer be feasible for both parties.
Osaka, 24, was ranked 12th on the list of highest earning athletes by Forbes last year, and still holds the coveted top slot for highest paid female athletes in 2022. According to Forbes, she made almost USD 60 million last year with an estimated USD 55 million coming from brand endorsements.
A four-time Grand Slam champion, Osaka, who was ranked second at the beginning of 2021, had dropped to 85th this year, as she has played few games due to her struggles with mental health and physical injuries. But she has rebounded to 38th and hopes to climb back into the top 10 by the end of the year. And despite her recent struggles, she hasn’t given up on regaining the top slot in WTA rankings.
Her agent at IMG and now business partner, Stuart Duguid, insists that focusing on tennis remains her top priority, saying that the goal of Evolve is to simply grow Osaka’s business portfolio to USD 150 million per annum. However, the new business venture does not want to achieve this by merely on boarding new sponsorships and lading her outfits with more company logos, with Duguid indicating that Osaka might actually cut down on the number of companies in her endorsement portfolio.
According to Duguid, Osaka wants to leverage her status of a star athlete to invest in and start new businesses and brands and Evolve will provide her with the leeway and flexibility she needs to do that. The tennis star already has equity in several brand partners in addition to her own skincare brand, Kinlo, and swimwear line, Frankie’s. She also has a sleepwear line in collaboration with Victoria’s Secret.
Osaka is not the first athlete to part ways with a major agency to start their own, however, and is following in the footsteps of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James, with many of whom she has developed close ties with over recent years. Kobe Bryant, who died in a 2020 helicopter crash, was also an early mentor to Osaka.
The move is also in line with how she has managed her public status and image, even if she is the first female athlete at that level to start her agency. Osaka believes that this is a natural next step in her journey as she has always managed things on her own terms, even when it has involved decisions that were not in line with traditional expectations associated with athletes.