Rap impresario Jay-Z is changing the sports agent game and scaring the white establishment as he’s doing it. Big-time athletes are breaking ranks, signing with Beyonce’s husband’s agency, Roc Nation, not just because it’s cool to be on his team, but also because his business acumen is producing blockbuster results.
People laughed and smirked when Jay-Z announced he was expanding his empire to athlete representation two years ago. Impressively, he leveraged his popularity as an artist to attain some of sports’ top young stars’ attention and is doing right by them in contact negotiations.
Jigga Man is laughing now with his latest coup, signing Dallas Cowboys star receiver Dez Bryant, who shunned agent Eugene Parker just as he is up for a new, mega-contract. Bryant’s reasons for the move mirror the thoughts of others who have shunned going with large, white firms for representation.
He can relate to Jay-Z.
“I feel like it fits me,” Bryant said to ESPNDallas.com. “It fits what I’m trying to do, what I’m trying to accomplish in life. I want to be the best that I can possibly be. It ain’t about a contract. It’s about me branding myself and being an icon for these kids. I love kids and they look up to me.
“I come from dirt — point blank, period — and every day I’m writing my story and it’s getting better. I feel like they were the best choice for me. They can help me get to where I want to be. That’s what it is.”
One person not laughing is Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who also serves as general manager. He reportedly talked Bryant out of hiring Roc Nation in the summer and was “not happy” when Bryant went against his wishes last week. It is unclear why Jones did not want the receiver to join Jay-Z’s agency. Jones dealt with Parker, who also is Black.
Whatever the case, Jay-Z wins, and so his quest to be a mega-player in the agency game climbs another rung, even while many root against him. It will be interesting to see how negotiations between Jones and Roc Nation go, as Bryant has earned the right to a new contact around $12 million a season, which would be commensurate with his status as one of the elite receivers in the NFL.
“I’d be highly disappointed,” Bryant said, if he did not get a max deal. Almost any agent could accomplish that; he’s deserving. It’s the outside-football exposure and endorsements where Roc Nation can up the ante for Bryant.
Roc Nation has only 12 sports clients for now, and they include some of the athletic world’s top performers. Significantly, Jay-Z and Co. negotiated a 10-year, $240-million deal for Robinson Cano when he left the New York Yankees for the Seattle Mariners—an enormous deal that set Roc Nation in flight.
Also on the Roc Nation team is NBA superstar Kevin Durant. Jay-Z earned its most significant deal for the Oklahoma City Thunder forward, an endorsement package with sneaker and athletic apparel giant Nike that could peak at $300 million. How Roc Nation pulled off the bonanza was as impressive as the numbers.
It smartly pitted and created a bidding war between Nike and rising Under Armour, which Roc Nation knew was eager to make a splash in the endorsement world by stealing away Durant. The story goes that Nike offered $20 million a year for Durant. Jay-Z took that number to Under Armour, which offered about $26 million, intent on overtaking its competitor.
But Nike flexed its muscle and offered $30 million a year, giving Roc Nation a landmark deal that shows other athletes, like Bryant, its negotiating power and legitimacy. Beyond that, there is speculation that Durant never had any intentions of leaving Nike—he took less in his previous contract instead of fleeing to Adidas.
Other Roc Nation clients include WNBA star Skylar Diggins, New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith, Detroit Lion lineman Ndamukon Suh and New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz, among others. Don’t be surprised if that client list rapidly increases.
Curtis Bunn is a best-selling novelist and national award-winning sports journalist who has worked at The Washington Times, NY Newsday, The New York Daily News and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.