No. 1 Osaka goes adidas =====> Nike

Nike is saving itself a fair bit of coin by not having Roger Federer in the stable any more.

And it’s made its first big splash, by luring world No. 1 Naomi Osaka over to the Swoosh side.

Sponsored

No doubt it’s a big, lucrative contract. And it adds another top brand to Osaka’s other sponsorship deals. Over the six months since she shocked Serena Williams and won the US Open, Osaka has cashed in big time.

The announcement is made even more interesting by the fact that the last we really heard about it – after the US Open – it appeared Osaka would stay with adidas.

She was reportedly “set” to sign a “record-breaking” extension to her adidas deal that would pay her a reported $8.5 million a year

That trial balloon was later debunked by the Japan Times. That newspaper indicated that she was still up for auction, and that Uniqlo (which obviously made the most sense) and Nike were in the running.

No doubt the bidding was fast and furious. 

And Nike won.

In retrospect, when we noted that it was interesting that the photo Osaka posted from an ESPN The Magazine story featured a logo-less, generic outfit a few weeks ago – it was more interesting than we knew.

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Big addition to the Nike team

The press-release quote from Osaka:

“I’m proud to become a member of the Nike family and excited about getting involved in all of the opportunities Nike has to offer. Nike has a legendary track record of writing history and I look forward to being a part of those moments for many years to come.”

The quote from Amy Montagne, “GM of Global Categories” for Nike: 

 “As we continue to inspire millions of athletes to chase their crazy dreams, Naomi is an incredible talent to add to our roster and help drive our commitment to inspiring a new generation of female athletes. We are thrilled to have her join our team.”

As usual with Nike, no mention of the length of the deal (or, obviously, the dollars involved).

The time frame of the rollout (including Osaka’s Tweet, below), tells you it was aimed at the Asian market. It’s Friday morning over there, but very late Thursday night on the east coast of the U.S. and late evening on the west coast.

And it’s the middle of the night in Europe.

Whither Uniqlo?

Given the reportedly insane amount of dollars Uniqlo will be giving Federer over the next decade, you’d think Uniqlo would have won this bidding war.

The fact that Uniqlo founder and chairman Tadashi Yanai is reportedly worth $23 billion and can buy any toys he wants only adds to that notion.

And it’s especially true with the Olympics coming up next year in Tokyo.

But perhaps Yanai isn’t as big on women’s tennis as he is on men’s tennis.

It will also be interesting to see whether Osaka, who will be big in the Asian market, will have the same exemption China’s Li Na had. Li was allowed to wear all of her other sponsorship patches on her Nike gear, unlike Nike’s other athletes – including Federer, Nadal and Serena Williams.

(Ben Rothenberg with the answer to that question:)

The promotional photo Nike released with its announcement (not surprisingly), contains no logos.

Osaka won’t play again until the Stuttgart event in 2 1/2 weeks. So we’ll see then.

Hopefully they will come up with some bespoke outfits for her, befitting a world No. 1. With the short turnaround time (given the average 18 months needed to design and produce a clothing line), it might take awhile for “Osaka Nike” to make a splash.

She looked terrific in the adidas – notably this year, with Nike’s main lines a design most tennis fans were tired of by the second week of the Australian Open.

Nike
Three years ago in Charleston, Osaka (wearing adidas) had just broken into the top 100 with a third-round result in Miami. She won two qualifying matches, but lost 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 to Louise Chirico in the first round of the main draw. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Adidas left out

It’s a common thing in tennis that the companies that sign players early in their careers, giving them money, and equipment (or clothing) long before they make it, are left in the cold when a player really does make it big.

Osaka has been wearing adidas since 2015 (she wore Yonex clothing in 2014).

Her deal expired at the end of 2018.

Nike
Osaka at the Granby Challenger in July, 2015 (her first year with adidas. She was ranked No. 159 at the time. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

That’s four years. And when she first began wearing it, Osaka was ranked outside the top 250. Not many people knew who she was.

Clearly she collected some nice bonuses from the company over the last few years, as her ranking rose to the top.

But all of that doesn’t matter a bit.

Once the players get to the top, and the big-dollar offers come, that’s pretty much it. The numbers and term will likely leak out eventually. But given the number that was floated for the adidas non-deal last September, it’s likely more than that.

We’ve seen it with players who have even changed racquets for the dough. That is a far more significant thing, in terms of their actual tennis, than what they’re wearing.

And we’ve seen some of them struggle and lose a big part of a season making the adjustment.

This change, obviously, is easier.

There’s no loyalty. But that’s the business.

If someone offers you a huge cheque, you’d be a fool not to take it.

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