Naomi Osaka leaves IMG to start her own agency, Evolve

The tennis career of Naomi Osaka, one of the greatest sports celebrities in the world, has taken on some familiar characteristics over the past 16 months.

Her achievements on the pitch have been limited due to a series of self-imposed layoffs to manage her struggles with mental health, motivational challenges and occasional physical ailments, but she has achieved tremendous success off the pitch, cementing her status as a of the highest paid female athletes in the world and by far the highest paid female athletes.

As the Italian Open kicks off to treat an Achilles tendon injury and prepare for the second Grand Slam event of the year, the French Open, which will be held later this month, Osaka announced that it would start a representative agency to take further control of its corporate portfolio assembly. Osaka and his longtime agent, Stuart Duguid, have left IMG, the sports and entertainment conglomerate, to start Evolve, which will manage Osaka’s business interests and potentially those of other clients the agency may sign.

The news of Osaka’s decision to launch Evolve was reported for the first time by Sportico.

A four-time Grand Slam singles champion, Osaka, 24, made about $ 60 million last year, according to Forbes, with an estimated $ 55 million from more than a dozen corporate sponsors. He was number 12 on Forbes’ list of highest earning athletes with Tiger Woods. Conor McGregor, the mixed martial arts artist, held the top spot on the list, earning $ 180 million.

In an interview on Wednesday, Duguid said Osaka’s top priority remained winning tennis matches and tournaments. He said his typical day involves workouts and treatments with his physiotherapist in the morning followed by lunch, but once that is done, he almost always wants to engage in his cultural or business interests.

“He’s not someone who likes to play video games and gorge on Netflix all day,” said Duguid, who has worked closely with Osaka since she was a teenager.

Osaka’s ranking has plummeted over the past year and a half, mostly because he has played so little. She finished second in the world in early 2021, but this year has dropped to 85th. She did the Miami Open finals in April, and reached 38th place, and hopes to climb back into the top 10 by the end of the year.

“I’d be lying if I said I don’t want to be No. 1 again, ”he said at the Miami tournament.

An IMG spokesperson declined to comment.

Losing a star the size of Osaka is a significant loss for the company, although it will most likely continue to make money on the existing sponsorship deals it has negotiated on its behalf. He is one of the few transcendent tennis stars that IMG has represented in the past two decades. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have left the IMG fold in recent years to start businesses with their agents, Tony Godsick and Carlos Costa.

For Osaka, Evolve’s goal is not simply to save money on paying commission to third parties, but also to grow its business portfolio to $ 150 million a year over the next few years, from around $ 50 million today. but not by signing deals that more corporate logos on his tennis clothes.

Duguid said Osaka may actually reduce its sponsorship portfolio. Evolve’s model is similar to the activities initiated by many of Osaka’s role models in the sports industry, many of whom have become close friends, including LeBron James and Stephen Curry. The Osaka was also close to Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in 2020 and who was one of his first mentors.

It has weighed a feat like Evolve since the Tokyo Olympics, where it lit the Olympic cauldron and was the play games in Japan, my home country. Osaka wanted more leeway to invest in businesses, have a stake in them and grow their own. Last year she founded Kinlò, a skincare company focused on people with melanistic or darker complexions.

That announcement came a few days after Osaka released from the US Open after being shocked by Leylah Fernandez, an unseeded Canadian, in the third round. She announced at a tearful press conference after the game that she had planned to take an indefinite break from tennis. She had previously taken seven weeks off after her he left the French Open last spring following a conflict with tournament organizers. Osaka had stated that he would not attend mandatory press conferences after the games. The organizers had threatened to throw her out of the tournament if she didn’t fulfill her obligations to the media, so Osaka withdrew.

Neither the stoppages nor his drop in the rankings seem to have affected his ability to grow his business off the pitch. Now, Duguid said, he will try to maintain his leading position off the pitch as he tries to regain what he once had.

“This is something that scratches an itch on the side for her,” he said.