Making Sense of Roc National Sports

Pete Kohler

One of the few memorable moments from Magna Carta Holy Grail was on “Crown,” when Jay-Z calls out agent Scott Boras saying, “Scott Boras, you over baby. Robinson Cano, you coming with me.”  To some degree this braggadocio was actually factual, a rare thing in rap circles these days. Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports had indeed poached MLB uber-free-agent-to-be Robinson Cano from Scott Boras. There was indeed more truth to this boast than Rick Ross’ many boasts about his hundreds of millions, that are in fact closer to $30 million (Sorry Rozay, you know you’re my boy). But to claim he’s supplanting Boras at the top of the food chain? Hold on now Hov.

Part of the reason it’s largely irrelevant that MCHG is a bore is that Jay-Z has made the transition from hip-hop megastar to a brand with influence that extends far beyond his music. When did this happen? If I had to guess, in 2009, when “Empire State of Mind” not only became New York’s anthem of the 21st century, but also became so omnipresent that I’d say 90% of warm bodies above age 10 heard it at some point that year. Then came “Watch the Throne” two years later, a musical and cultural event nearly as unavoidable. And though his ownership stake in the Brooklyn Nets amounted to far less than 1%, Jigga became the face of the franchise during the move to Brooklyn. It wasn’t like point guard Deron Williams was enough to create the requisite buzz needed to open a $1 billion arena in the world’s premier city. Regardless of when this existential shift went down, by 2012 there was no arguing that Jay was an industry in and of himself.

It doesn’t surprise me that Hov sounds bored on his new album because, to a large degree, he’s done everything there is to do in music. How can he musically surpass The Blueprint or commercially outdo the “Watch the Throne” tour? And there’s certainly a lot of truth to the whole musicians wanting to be athletes and athletes wanting to be musicians thing, but Jay’s potential playing days ended sometime around “Kingdom Come”. So if you can’t play, why not become a super-agent? It comes with the same pay and prestige and a lot fewer hours in the gym.

So now the world is left to deal with the existence of Roc Nation Sports. And as is Shawn Carter’s modus operandi, it wasn’t like he wasn’t going to make a big splash. Signing the likes of Robinson Cano, Victor Cruz, Skyler Diggins and Kevin Durant is not a bad way to make a name for yourself (sorry Geno Smith, you’re relegated to the parentheses). The question becomes: what is both the ceiling and the actual impact of this institution, beyond stealing a few seven-figure paychecks from Scott Boras and friends? Also, what is Jay actually doing? Is he the DJ Khaled of sports agents, not actually negotiating contracts but putting the proper pieces and people in place?

The ceiling of Roc Nation Sports will be determined this winter when Robbie Cano looks to add a few more zeroes to his bank account. Yes, Jay has already made an impact by hooking Cano up with a sweet endorsement deal with Pepsi, but Cano was marketable before he landed at the Roc. There will be a few more athletes that sign on to Roc Nation just for the swag bonus (read: image boost), but the ceiling on things will really explode if Cano gets paid in a big, big way. Sure, athletes love endorsements and being associated with a winning brand such as Jay-Z’s, but at the end of the day, the tiers of athletes below superstars such as Cano are going to be much more concerned about inking big deals rather than big endorsements. If these premier athletes are going to ditch the tried and true green pastures of the Scott Boras types for Roc Nation, they’ll need some assurance that Jay not only knows what he’s doing but might be able to one-up the competition.

To me, the biggest intrigue is to what extent Jay-Z will get down in the trenches and be hands-on involved with the Cano negotiations. While there’s a lot to be said for putting great people in place, ultimately a man as competitive and image-conscious as Jay will not want the success of his venture outside of his control. Then question begs, if you’re Ned Colletti or Brian Cashman, are you licking your chops or squirming in your chair when Shawn Carter starts trying to play hardball with you? Who the heck knows, but man, what I’d give to be a fly on the wall for one of those boardroom meetings.

Contact Pete Koehler at

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