A year ago today, the sporting world was dealt a shot-in-the-arm, quite unlike anything it had experienced previously. It was April 2, 2013 when news broke that Jay Z (back when he had the hyphen in his name) was embarking on a new endeavor in the merky waters of athlete representation.
Sure, we’ve seen this before by an entertainer, albeit scarce, but Jay is a different animal entirely. It’s close to inarguable that over the past 20 years, he has had more global impact on popular culture than any other person walking planet Earth. Frankly, it’s not even close. That’s what made this entire endeavor so fascinating. In fact, that’s what made it an absolute can’t-miss.
Along with the news, of course, came the information that his first client was Robinson Cano, the most coveted upcoming free agent that would hit baseball’s open market. “But wait. Isn’t Cano Scott Boras’ client?” Exactly. How did he pull this off and what exactly was about to happen?
Prior to Jay’s arrival, the industry of athlete representation was dominated by those who have become household names in the business. The Scott Borases and Arn Tellems and Drew Rosenhauses have contributed to shaping the landscape as we knew it. Then, in walked Jay a year ago today and implemented “new rules” as he likes to refer to it. Once he got rolling, Jay gave his assessment as to his thought process in an interview with Power 105’s The Breakfast Club:
“Those guys have been sitting around just doing the typical things…knock on the same doors. They go to Nike, they do the contract and then they sit back. They don’t do anything else. So they’ve been sitting around for 20-30 years just not doing anything.”
“So me coming, that’s a problem for them. Cause now they have to go to work, now they have to wake up, now they have to do things. So they don’t want me around because now they have to do something for these athletes. The bigger goal is for all artists to get their just due. Not to get half-ass agents or people who rob them or people who don’t care about their finances. They’re just taking whatever is going to get them a check.”
That may sound cocky, but is it inaccurate?
This initiative makes sense on every level. Primarily because there isn’t a young athlete, who is in-tune with pop culture, who wouldn’t absolutely love to brag to their friends that “Jay Z is my agent.” Actually, the same is probably true with older athletes as well. In most cases, it’s probably a matter of “where do I sign?” first, then “wait, is he even qualified?” second. You can’t buy or teach that sort of natural draw. Not many come equipped with that built-in cache.
By nature of that, there’s a natural feeling of exclusivity, as Roc Nation has turned down countless interested athletes. Because you don’t think Jay is just going to let any ol’ fringe, middling athlete sully his name, do you?
Luster aside, this endeavor didn’t come without any sort of road blocks and learning curves, of course. First, Jay had to sell his partial ownership of the Brooklyn Nets, and become an actual certified agent. Once those were in the rearview mirror, it then became a matter of how to actually get the job done.
Let’s not forget the Geno Smith “runner” mishap, or the premature interaction with Jadaveon Clowney. If what has been reported in each incident is true, those were legit problems and provided much ammo to his many detractors. Fair is fair, and those should not be overlooked or swept under the rug. However, luckily for Roc Nation, nothing serious came of either of those and it was business as usual. But in the same breath, let’s also not forget Robinson Cano’s $240 million Mariners contract either.
So here we are today and the Roc Nation Sports roster boasts a client list of Kevin Durant, Robinson Cano, CC Sabathia, Skylar Diggins, Hakeem Nicks, Geno Smith and Victor Cruz. That’s an impressive list of names for an agent to amass over the course of a career, let alone one year.
Surely, there will be more surprises and big signings in the months to come (perhaps Andrew Wiggins), but I don’t think it will stop there. I’m anticipating another major paradigm shift that will be impossible for anyone to compete with. The approach is unconventional, but it’s hard to argue with success.
Happy Birthday, Roc Nation Sports.