For far too long, the conversation surrounding the world's highest-earning female athletes has been dominated by either a solitary figure or, occasionally, a pair of particularly well-paid women.
However there's a new star on the scene in the form of 22-year-old Tennis phenom Naomi Osaka, and her broad appeal and unique presence in the sporting world has not only made her the new highest-earning female athlete in history, but could also make her a trail blazer in helping change the earning potential of her contemporaries for good.
Osaka's unpredecented ability to make bank comes down to a number of factors. On top of the prize money she earned in a hugely successful 2019-20 season, she also inked a unique $10 million contract with Nike that, unlike the majority of their other athletes, allowed her to wear patches of her other sponsors on her playing gear. This allowed her to sign "patch" deals with the likes of Nippon Airways, MasterCard and Nissin Foods, adding to a lucrative list of sponsors she already had that included Nissan Motor, Shiseido and her racquet sponsor, Yonex.
Add all this up, and you come to a pretty hefty sum. According to Forbes, Osaka earned $37.4 million USD over the course of last year: the single most lucrative year for a female athlete in any sport. This allowed her to eclipse the two highest-earning female athletes ever in both Serena Williams and the previous record holder, Maria Sharapova, who earned $29.7 million USD in 2015.
Image: Courtesy Of Forbes
"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."
Of course, Osaka still has a long way to go to match the total career earnings of Williams and Sharapova, who both boast net worths in excess of $150 million USD. But the sky seems to be the limit for the former world no. 1, both athletically and financially.
Even so, to look at the overall list of highest-paid athletes that will hit Forbes next month is to still observe a grim picture of how far away women truly are from achieving pay parity in the wider arena of pro sports. Osaka and Williams, who ranked Nos. 29 and 33 respectively in last year's rankings, were the only two women included on the list.