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Naomi Osaka is a new part owner of the NC Courage

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The National Women’s Soccer League is getting another high profile investor, although not necessarily in the club you might expect. No, it’s not another celeb to Los Angeles hotspot Angel City FC - this time it’s three-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, and she’s thrown in her financial lot with the North Carolina Courage, they announced this morning.

NC GM Curt Johnson said in the press release, “Naomi is the perfect fit as an owner because her values sync so well with our club. A team with an exemplary and trailblazing roster of world-class professional athletes supported by a globally influential icon is a seminal moment for our sport and the Courage organization.”

Osaka also spoke with The Athletic about her decision, explaining that she got the idea when she saw so many high-profile women joining the Angel City FC ownership group, and had her agent contact league commissioner Lisa Baird so she could begin discussions with several clubs. It wasn’t just a spur of the moment thing though; Osaka told the Athletic that she has been watching the USWNT’s equal pay fight with US Soccer. According to the report, the Courage were able to sell Osaka on the club on several points, including their large youth program and their plans for future racial justice work, and now here we are.

Osaka is part of a growing wave of female athletes who are now able to turn their winnings and sponsorships into a lasting business model, particularly given reports of her $37.4 million in earnings in 2020. Consider someone like Lebron James, who owns 19 Blaze Pizza franchises and a minority stake in Liverpool, among other investments. Male athletes have long been able to start up businesses to keep the money flowing post-career due to having available investment capital. Chronically underfunded female athletes aren’t able to invest on the same level, although they’ve certainly got the same business savvy and ambition.

Now, with Osaka’s multi-million dollar earnings (just the tip of the iceberg, as she was named the world’s most marketable athlete in 2019 by SportsPro Media), she’s poised to help move the needle for women’s sports yet again. Not just with her money, although that’s certainly a huge component, but with her leadership as a young and powerful woman of color, specifically as a Black woman. There are a handful of Black women among ownership groups in the NWSL, but most of them are concentrated within Angel City FC: Serena Williams, Candace Parker, Uzo Aduba, Shannon Boxx, Saskia Webber, and Angela Hucles. Healthcare CEO Y. Michele Kang just joined the Washington Spirit’s ownership group. But by and large, NWSL ownership is heavily white and male.

There’s been no mention of what Osaka’s specific ownership stake is in NC; it’s clear she’s not coming in as a majority owner, but given her stated desire to impact the future of women’s sports and her business savvy, it’s an easy assumption that she is not in it for peanuts either and bargained for a considerable position.

It’s a great day for the Courage and for NWSL as a whole, and no doubt Osaka will be mentioning this to her friends/competitors down at the Australian Open, scheduled to start February 7. She’s also playing fellow NWSL investor Serena Williams in an exhibition match today to finish out their quarantines, likely to start around 10:30 PM ET tonight as they go on after the conclusion of Novak Djokovic vs Jannik Sinner.