SBJ/June 17-23, 2013/Labor and Agents

Who’s on Roc Nation’s roster? Confusion upsets other agents

In less than three months, the attitude in the established sports agent world toward Jay-Z and his Roc Nation Sports has changed from one of almost contempt to resignation, as agents acknowledge they are likely to lose some of their clients to the rap mogul. But along with a grudging acceptance over possible defections, there’s also an undercurrent of anger over the confusion that Roc Nation Sports has created in the marketplace.

Jay-Z’s new sports arm is easily the most talked about story within the small representation community, and agents refuse to publicly go on record for fear of upsetting or antagonizing the rapper and entrepreneur, who is also an icon to many of today’s athletes. But while they may not talk on the record, privately more than one agent called Jay-Z “a magnet” for players, one that is attracting star talent while also disrupting public perception of existing client relationships.

The latest move to rock the representation world came earlier this month, when Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant left his agent, Rob Pelinka, after little more than a year. Although he was not an official client of Roc Nation Sports last week, multiple sources said it was just a matter of time until he would be.

That news brought a hush over the agent community. The 24-year-old Durant is seen as one of the most prized U.S. athletes an agent could build an agency around.

That has been the goal of Roc Nation, which announced April 1 that it had launched Roc Nation Sports, was partnering with CAA Sports and had signed Yankees second baseman
Robinson Cano as its first client. Since then, a spokesperson for Roc Nation Sports, who would not comment for this story, has said that the plan was to build “a full-service agency” by hiring agents certified to represent athletes in contract work in multiple sports, as well as certifying Roc Nation executives.

That process is continuing, but while Roc
Kevin Durant appeared in a Skullcandy spot with rapper and Roc Nation client Wale. Now Durant has left his agent, and reports have him joining Roc Nation Sports.
Nation Sports moves forward, there is a growing amount of confusion — and in some cases, anger — in the sports industry about just whom the fledging agency represents and which athletes are part of its partnership with CAA Sports.

“The confusion comes in with what Roc Nation is doing for each individual client,” said Denise White, CEO of Entertainers & Athletes Group, which represents about 30 professional athletes for public relations and branding. “I don’t think it is clear who they are representing and what they are representing each player for.”

Roc Nation’s website listed three players last week as clients: Cano, WNBA Tulsa Shock guard Skylar Diggins and New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith. CAA Sports co-represents Diggins and Cano for marketing and contract work, but does not co-represent Smith.

Smith signed with Roc Nation Sports in May. Projected as a first-round draft pick by many analysts, he held interviews with several prominent NFL agents after waiting until the second round to hear his name called.

Smith had been represented by Select Sports Group, and two sources said he had signed a multiyear marketing deal with Select Sports Group. Select Sports agents did not respond to requests for comment.

Smith is now represented by Kim Miale, an NFL Players Association-certified agent who was hired by Roc Nation Sports in May.

Roc Nation may have brought on Miale because its executives could not get certification under NFLPA rules this year. The regulations require prospective agents to apply for and pass a test before they are certified, and the deadline to take this year’s test had already passed when Roc Nation launched its sports division. 

Last week, the NFLPA was investigating whether Miale violated an agent regulation known as “the runner rule,” which prohibits certified agents from using noncertified agents to recruit players.

The NFLPA began the inquiry after multiple NFL agents complained to the players union, sources said, asking it to investigate whether Smith signed with Miale because of contact with Jay-Z and whether that violated the rule. One agent acknowledged that agents were “leaning on the PA” to do something, and since the union had no authority over Jay-Z because he is not a certified agent, they wanted the union to punish Miale.

Rival agents are not worried about Miale, but “the agents are worried about the guy she is working for,” one said.

Smith has publicly stated that Jay-Z didn’t recruit him. Another agent who competed to sign Smith after he dropped Select Sports Group told SportsBusiness Journal that Smith did indeed want to be with Jay-Z.

In the case of Durant, multiple sources said the Thunder forward, who has aspirations to be a rapper and has performed under the rap name “Sniper Jones,” also wanted to join Jay-Z. Durant was not unhappy with Pelinka, these sources said. Durant signed with Pelinka and his agency, Landmark Sports Group, in April 2012, after leaving Goodwin Sports.

Pelinka negotiated endorsement deals for Durant with several brands, including with BBVA Compass, the NBA’s official bank; Unilever’s Degree brand; and headphone and audio equipment brand Skullcandy. Durant appeared in a Skullcandy commercial earlier this year with rapper Wale, who is represented by Roc Nation.

If Roc Nation Sports signs Durant, it is not clear whether he would also be represented by CAA Sports for contract work, because the agency employs a number of NBPA-certified agents. Under NBPA rules, players must wait 15 days before signing with a new NBPA-certified agent.

Another athlete who has been widely reported to be a client of Roc Nation Sports is New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz. Cruz is not listed on Roc Nation Sports’ website, but multiple media outlets over the last month have stated Cruz is on Roc Nation Sports’ client roster.

The Giants’ Victor Cruz is among those who’ve been reported on Roc Nation’s roster but are repped by others.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Some agents privately expressed irritation, and even anger, that Roc Nation was reported to be representing athletes who were apparently still clients of other firms. At the same time, agents wondered who was to blame for what appeared to be bad information.

Cruz is one of many athletes who is a personal friend of Jay-Z’s, but he is represented by IMG for off-the-field endeavors and by CAA Sports agent Tom Condon for contract work. Condon has been in talks with the New York Giants about a new contract for the restricted free agent wide receiver, while IMG last week confirmed that Cruz remains in the IMG fold.

“Victor Cruz is a happy client of IMG,” said Sandy Montag, IMG senior corporate vice president and head of clients. Montag wouldn’t discuss the reports that Cruz was a Roc Nation Sports client.

When Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson left his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, earlier this month, multiple news outlets reported in the same breath that he was likely joining Roc Nation Sports. EAG’s White, who represents Jackson for public relations work, said, “We have no idea where those reports came from at all.” Jackson’s firing of Rosenhaus was related to a dispute he had with Rosenhaus and not related to a desire to join Jay-Z’s agency, she said.

Jackson is in no hurry to sign with another agent, she added. But she acknowledged that when Jackson does conduct interviews for a new agent, he would be interested in meeting with Roc Nation Sports.

Other high-profile athletes linked with Roc Nation Sports as potential current or future clients include Brazilian soccer star Neymar.

Jay-Z’s move into the agent business has not just been covered by the sports media, but the entertainment and global media, as well.

“Now, every player who fires his agent is going to sign with Jay-Z,” groused one agent of the media coverage.

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