Naomi Osaka has decided to break away from her management company, IMG, to start her own sports agency with longtime agent Stuart Duguid.
I’m excited to start this with my business partner Stuart and our plan is to use the same approach we took in building my businesses authentically and strategically as a vision for this company. I strongly believe in the power athletes have to use our platforms to drive meaningful business. Naomi Osaka
IMG, well-known for its work as a sports and modelling agency, represents a number of top tennis professionals, and Osaka is the first female athlete at her level to take complete control of her business interests.
According to reports, Osaka and Duguid began discussing the venture at the Tokyo Olympics last year.
Duguid told Reuters via email that the firm, to be called Evolve, will operate as a ‘small boutique and bespoke agency’.
“We were discussing the business models of some of her mentors like Kobe [Bryant] and Lebron [James],” Duguid wrote. “We thought – why has no transcendent female athlete done that yet?
“It’s athlete driven and focused on big picture brand building rather than quick checks with a commission attached.”
He added that he could not share much about the identities of the initial clients, saying: “It would be only athletes who transcend their sports; or those with the potential to do so.”
Osaka, a former World No 1 and the first Japanese to win a Grand Slam, has emerged as a leading advocate for athlete mental health and well-being since she pulled out of the French Open a year ago and disclosed she had been suffering from depression for years.
On Wednesday she tweeted a compilation of clips from her earlier playing days in which she discussed her career aspirations with the caption: “Hey kid, you’ve come a long way and even though there’s been some bumps on the road I hope you know you’re doing amazing.”
In one of the clips, she prophetically discussed what she might be doing were she not a tennis player.
“I just like sports, so maybe [I would be] like [to be] an agent in the end,” she said.
Osaka, who believes that striking out on her own is the next logical step for her career, hopes the creation of an athlete-driven agency will help to break down barriers in sport.
“I’ve spent my career doing things my way, even when people told me that it wasn’t what was expected or traditional,” Osaka told Sportico. “Evolve is the natural next step in my journey as both an athlete and businesswoman, as well as a way to continue being myself and doing things my way.
“I’m excited to start this with my business partner Stuart and our plan is to use the same approach we took in building my businesses authentically and strategically as a vision for this company.
“I strongly believe in the power athletes have to use our platforms to drive meaningful business.”
Osaka has not shied away from stepping up to the plate when it comes to full involvement in the business side of her career, and is prepared to do things differently, cashing in on sponsorship deals that have helped her build enterprises beyond tennis.
“We’ve moved away a bit from traditional endorsements and are focused more on true equity partnerships where we can add value, along with creating our own companies at the same time,” said Duguid. “This gives a platform to take bigger swings.”