- Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka has become the highest-paid female athlete in sporting history, raking in $37.4 million in prize money and endorsements in the past 12 months, according to Forbes.
- That's still under 30% of the $127 million the top male athlete, footballer Lionel Messi, made in 2019.
- In becoming the highest-paid female athlete of all time, Osaka leapfrogs fellow tennis stars Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, who have dominated the best-paid athlete rankings for a decade.
- Osaka's financial success is helped by her dual heritage and appeal in both Japan and the US.
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Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka has become the highest-paid female athlete in sporting history, raking in $37.4 million in prize money and endorsements in the past 12 months, according to Forbes.
However, that's still less than 30% of what the highest-paid male sporting star earns.
Despite her huge earnings, Osaka ranks only 29th overall among sports stars in terms of total earnings in the past year, Forbes said, highlighting the huge gender inequality in elite sport when it comes to pay.
Although the full 2020 money ranking is yet to be released, Osaka's earnings pale in comparison to the amount made by 2019's best-paid male athlete, FC Barcelona and Argentina football star Lionel Messi.
Messi made $127 million dollars during the previous year. That's more than three times what Osaka earned.
In becoming the highest-paid female athlete of all time, Osaka leapfrogs fellow tennis stars Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, who have dominated the best-paid athlete rankings for a decade.
Previously Sharapova held the one-year record, earning $29.7 million in 2015, the year in which she made her last ever Grand Slam final appearance, losing to Williams at the Australian Open.
Between 2016 and 2019, Williams topped the highest-paid female ranking each year, earning a total of $103.2 million, according to Forbes.
Osaka's rise to become the highest-paid female athlete ever is not based solely on her prowess on court — she is currently ranked only 10th in the WTA rankings — but also on her extremely marketable image.
She was born in Japan but moved to the US as a child, and has achieved stardom in both countries, allowing her to gain endorsements in two lucrative markets. In the US, she has an apparel and footwear deal with Nike, while in Japan, her sponsors include racket maker Yonex, instant ramen company Nissin Foods, and airline All Nippon Airways.
Her image in Japan was helped in October 2019 when she relinquished her US citizenship so she could represent Japan at the now-postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
"To those outside the tennis world, Osaka is a relatively fresh face with a great back story," David Carter, a sports business professor at USC's Marshall School of Business, told Forbes.
"Combine that with being youthful and bicultural, two attributes that help her resonate with younger, global audiences, and the result is the emergence of a global sports marketing icon."