The French Open Brings Athlete Mental Health To The Forefront

Naomi Osaka, four-time Grand Slam singles champ and reigning US Open & Australian Open champion made headlines when she decided to withdraw from the French Open in early June citing focusing on her mental health and wanting to raise awareness for mental health issues in athletes.

The 23-year old star is the world’s highest-paid female athlete after a historic year of signing over two-dozen endorsement deals. She has received attention in the past for her work off the court, raising awareness around social injustice. She makes pushes to invest in women’s sports and also bought a stake in the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage.

We wanted to take a deep dive into Naomi Osaka’s social influence and the future of athletes engaging in mental health conversations.

What Happened?

  • On May 31st, a few days after announcing she would not be talking to the press, Naomi Osaka, ranked #2 in the world, withdrew from the French Open. 
  • After announcing she would not be speaking to the media, some said it is part of a tennis player’s responsibility, while others supported her decision to prioritize her mental health.
  • In her post, Osaka opened up about her struggles with depression since 2018.

  • This post generated over 41 million impressions across Osaka’s Twitter & Instagram.
  • In 1 week, the single post generated over 32,000 responses, retweets, and posts mentioning Osaka.
  • 10,000 organic posts mentioned Naomi Osaka – generating 57 million more impressions.

Sentiment & Top Responses

Social media erupted with thoughts, opinions, and conversations around Osaka’s decision to withdraw from the tournament.

  • 5/31/2021 – 6/6/2021

The sentiment on social media following Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open was overwhelmingly positive

  • 5/3/2021 – 6/3/2021

These large numbers indicate that the conversations on social media after Osaka announced that she wasn’t participating in press conferences or other media events and withdrawing from the French Open were heavily in her favor and supportive of athlete mental health. 

Her post also generated support from public figures.

Posts That Mention Mental Health

We tracked all posts that mention Naomi Osaka and tagged the posts that mentioned the words “mental health.” 14% of all the posts mentioning Naomi Osaka also mentioned mental health, creating over 3 million impressions.

Naomi Osaka Social Insights (5/12/2021 – 6/4/2021)

  • 2.4M Followers on Instagram
  • 1M Followers on Twitter
  • 122 Organic Posts
  • 1.9M Engagements
  • 2.86% Engagement Rate
  • 65.2M Impressions
  • 9.5M Reach
  • $2.5M Social Value

Calm Audience x Naomi Osaka

Many of Naomi Osaka’s brand partners such as Nike, Nissan, Mastercard, Workday, and Sweetgreen publicly expressed their support after withdrawing from the French Open.

Many in the sports sponsorship space believed this to be a great opportunity for the Calm app to partner with the tennis star.

When taking a look at Calm’s social audience, we saw that they were 1.4X more interested in racquet sports than the general sports audience online.

Could this be an opportunity for Calm to build a partnership with Naomi Osaka?

Calm Announce

On June 2, Calm announced it would donate $15K (the amount Naomi Osaka was fined for not speaking to the press) to LaureusSport in France. Furthermore, they would also pay the fines of other athletes who chose not to engage with the press.

Calm’s post alone garnered over 300K impressions in just two days.

Naomi Osaka is one of the most famous global athletes of our generation and will continue to resonate because of who she is and what she stands for.

These events show the change in sentiment towards athletes and their attempts at social activism. Athletes are breaking the fourth wall and becoming more relatable to their fans, which in turn creates a stronger fanbase.

When Naomi’s partners showed support for her decisions, they gained the respect of her fans.

In the ever changing sponsorship world, it is easy to see that proactive and supportive partnerships are on the rise, and brands are seeing the value in speaking out on topics they historically have not. In the future we should expect to see more athletes continue to show up and speak out like Osaka, and brands come forward to back them. 

written & researched by Ysabel Gonzalez Rico & Mary Frances Ierlan