Roc Nation Sports (RNS), the nascent full-service sports management company founded by rapper Jay-Z, is poised to make an impact in the field of athlete representation.
Despite its initial success, some agents appear to be dismissive of RNS. High-powered baseball agent Scott Boras told USA Today, "To suggest that somebody is going to walk off the street and say, 'I am a fan, I enjoy sports, so I can do this,' is no different than somebody watching the Discovery channel and saying, 'I'm a fan of medicine, I like surgery, so I'll start operating on people." Boras' comments are reminiscent of the hilarious Holiday Inn Express ads - "I'm not a surgeon...but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night," - except competition from Jay-Z's agency should be no laughing matter to the sports agent fraternity.
Boras knows better than anyone that Jay-Z's foray into athlete representation presents real competition. RNS's first announced client was Yankees' second baseman Robinson Cano, formerly a member of Boras' stable of athletes.
Athletes whose primary concern is maximizing their income on the field may be inclined to choose long-time agents such as Boras. And not every athlete will be attracted to the glitter and glamour of Jay-Z, anymore then he will be attracted to them. But you can be sure that RNS has caught the attention of the younger set, especially those who play in the major markets and want to explore their income potential off the field. Jay-Z has notoriety and credibility, the two most important traits of any agent.
Can Jay-Z back up the sizzle with substance? In 2007, he sold his interest in a clothing company for $200 million. Jay-Z currently has a financial interest in several companies, including Roc Nation, a music sales, publishing and artist management company he founded with Live Nation; The 40/40 Club, a chain of sports bars with locations in the Far East; and Carol's Daughter, a line of perfumes and beauty products. He also represents brands as diverse as Reebok, Budweiser, Coke and HP. Jay-Z has made money for himself and everyone he has been associated with. There's no reason to believe he can't do the same for athletes.
So far, RNS has been very selective in building a client list. In addition to Cano, Jay-Z has signed New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith, New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz and former Notre Dame basketball player Skylar Diggins, the third overall pick in last month's WNBA draft. Diggins plays for the small-market Tulsa Shock but with her drop-dead model looks she has the potential to be a national, if not international, force for marketing a variety of products. When Skylar signed with RNS, Jay-Z presented her with a new Mercedes, which is worth more than her salary with the Shock (the league maximum salary is only $107,000 for a 6-year veteran). But if she proves to be as effective a spokesperson as she projects to be, Jay-Z's investment will be rewarded.
There are grumblings in the sports industry that Jay-Z is violating league and union rules, especially in the NFL, regarding the recruitment and representation of clients. However, Jay-Z is smart enough not to jeopardize a potential gold mine. For now, he has associated himself with certified agents in every sport who will conduct the face-to-face contract negotiations with teams. Jay-Z's expertise is in marketing, mining potential revenue opportunities for his clients off the field, be it in the product endorsement area or investments. As an indication of his commitment to athlete representation, Jay-Z sold his interest in the NBA Brooklyn Nets in order to comply with league rules that prohibit anyone with an ownership interest in one team to represent a player on another team.
This isn't the first attempt to merge entertainment and sports (hello, ESPN), nor is it the first time someone without much experience has represented an athlete. After all, even Boras was wet behind the ears when he represented his first client. The entrance of a new agent to the field of athlete representation wouldn't make waves if it wasn't Jay-Z.
Regardless of what they say publicly, agents feel threatened, and well they should be. It won't be long before Roc Nation Sports will be a force in the agency business.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.