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June 22, 2022

Osaka launches media company with LeBron James, looks to drop sponsors

Japanese tennis icon Naomi Osaka has launched a new media company in partnership with basketball legend LeBron James’ SpringHill Company and her agent Stuart Duguid.

By Susan Lingeswaran

Japanese tennis icon Naomi Osaka has launched a new media company in partnership with basketball legend LeBron James’ SpringHill Company and her agent Stuart Duguid.

Called Hana Kuma, which translates to “flower bear” in Japanese, the company will produce documentaries as well as scripted and unscripted series aimed at telling stories that cross-cultural barriers.

The company has already struck partnerships with cryptocurrency exchange platform FTX and health platform Modern Health.

In a statement, Osaka said: “There has been an explosion of creators of color finally being equipped with resources and a huge platform. In the streaming age, content has a more global perspective. You can see this in the popularity of television in Asia, Europe, and Latin America that the unique can also be universal.

“My story is a testament to that as well. I’m so excited for what we are building at Hana Kuma. We will bring stories to life with this goal in mind: to make unique perspectives feel universal and inspire people along the way.”

The SpringHill Company, founded by James and business partner Maverick Carter, will serve as financing, operations, and producing partner for Hana Kuma. The company has roughly 200 employees and was valued at $725 million during its latest funding round.

SpringHill’s operations include a marketing consultancy, as well as a media and apparel division dedicated to athlete empowerment. It also has units focusing on film and television production and events.

Speaking to the New York Times, Carter said SpringHill dismissed the project as a vanity deal aimed at keeping athletes happy and engaged.

He said: “Under the old system, sometimes those ended up being for vanity. But the goal here is to build Hana Kuma into a real company and a real brand.

“Naomi can just plug into what we have built. We want to do a lot more of this in the future.”

The new media company, meanwhile, is the latest project for Osaka and Duguid. The pair also launched sports agency Evolve earlier this year, which signed Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios as its first client on Monday.

In 2020, Forbes named Osaka the highest-paid female athlete in history, and in January this year valued her earnings for 2021 at $57.3 million, the vast majority of which came from endorsements as opposed to prize money winnings.

She has 12 sponsors, including Nike, Mastercard, Louis Vuitton, and Panasonic, but is now looking to reduce that number to be involved in bigger projects.

Duguid told the New York Times: “We really want to bring that number [of sponsors] down and have more in-depth relationships with the ones that continue.

“We want to take bigger swings and start companies, invest in companies, things that might have potentially a bigger outcome than if you did a McDonald’s deal and got paid year to year. What will really move the needle?”

Osaka will not play at next week’s Wimbledon after withdrawing from the competition for the second year in a row due to injury. She has not competed on tour since her first-round loss at the French Open last month.

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