Naomi Osaka is the latest notable star to invest in the National Women's Soccer League, as she became a part-owner of North Carolina Courage, the club announced on Thursday. Osaka, a three-time Grand Slam champion in tennis, is the first investor in the Courage since Steve Malik acquired the Western New York Flash and relocated the team to North Carolina in 2017.
"I am thrilled to welcome Naomi as an owner of the North Carolina Courage," Malik said. "Naomi embodies the values we have been striving to cultivate at our club, and she brings an invaluable viewpoint on topics beyond sports. I cannot think of anyone better to help us as we continue to make a difference in our community and inspire the next generation of women."
The news comes as the 23-year-old Osaka is preparing for the upcoming Australian Open and an exhibition match against Serena Williams.
The women who have invested in me growing up made me who I am today, I don’t know where I would be without them. Throughout my career I’ve always received so much love from my fellow female athletes so that’s why I am proud to share that I am now a owner of @TheNCCourage ⚽️❤️ pic.twitter.com/Iz0YcVvOqz— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) January 28, 2021
Osaka's investment in NWSL is the latest in a wave of new high-profile ownership throughout the league. She joins fellow tennis superstars Serena William and Billie Jean King as investment partners with ownership stakes in NWSL clubs. Williams and King are current members of Angel City ownership group in Los Angeles, which is slated to debut in 2022 as the league is set to expand the number of clubs to 12.
"The women who have invested in me growing up made me who I am today and I cannot think of where my life would be without them," Osaka said in the club statement. "My investment in the North Carolina Courage is far beyond just being a team owner, it's an investment in amazing women who are role models and leaders in their fields and inspirations to all young female athletes. I also admire everything the Courage does for diversity and equality in the community, which I greatly look forward to supporting and driving forward."
Osaka was connected with a number of clubs during the process via commissioner Lisa Baird, according to The Athletic. The decision from Osaka to back North Carolina Courage wasn't solely based on a winning culture -- though the current two-time NWSL champions have that. It was the clubs' extensive youth-to-pro soccer club programs and diverse initiatives to address racial inequality and push forward existing plans in place to address those needs in the community.
"First of all, they have the biggest youth-to-pro soccer club in all of the country (boys and girls) with over 13,000 players," Osaka said. "Last year, Nike and I launched the Play Academy by Naomi Osaka which has the goal of keeping young girls active in sports (statistically they dropout earlier than boys and I see no reason why we can't fix that), so that was a great shared interest off the bat.
"Then we spoke about their current and existing plans to address racial inequality in the community, including initiatives to improve lives of underprivileged kids in the area."