Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 1

Labor and Agents

For more than a year, Roc Nation has been quiet about its plans to grow its business through sports. But last week, the company made one of the biggest additions to its executive ranks, naming longtime sports executive Michael Yormark its new president and chief of branding and strategy.

Yormark comes to Roc Nation after working for the Florida Panthers for 11 years, most recently as Sunrise Sports & Entertainment president and CEO. Speaking in his first interview on his first day in the new job, he touted what he sees as a massive opportunity in the industry for his new employer.

But when he focuses on his role, it simply comes down to increasing revenue.

“My charge is to drive revenue … to find opportunities and to grow the business,” Yormark said. “To grow revenue for Roc Nation and Roc Nation Sports and, most importantly, for our clients, our athletes and our entertainers.”

His first order of business will be to develop a 120-day action plan, something he expects to draw up in his first week. “We have some pretty interesting

ideas that we want to attempt,” he said, “and hopefully, we will be able to roll out some of those ideas in the near future.”

Without delving into many specifics, Yormark offered broad strokes on potential areas of growth for a company that to date has been mostly focused on representing sports talent. In addition to expanding its roster of athletes, he said corporate consulting and an events business are ripe as strategic-growth areas.

“We will look at events; we will look at any opportunity that will complement the company,” Yormark said, noting that Roc Nation handles tours for the musical artists it manages. “We don’t have what I would call a 360 consulting practice, and that is absolutely something we will look at in the future.”

If Roc Nation does expand into these lines of business, it will be up against an increasingly large field of multiservice agencies, such as Wasserman Media Group, Octagon and the soon-to-be-combined William Morris Endeavor/IMG, as well as growing companies Lagardère Unlimited and Relativity Sports. None of that seemed to faze the 47-year-old Yormark as he spoke last week.

“If you look at the growth over the last five years, [Roc Nation] really has become a global powerhouse in both sports and entertainment,” Yormark said. “I think there is always the opportunity to grow into other businesses. When you look at the history of this company over the last five years, it’s very entrepreneurial. They are always looking for growth opportunities that are strategic and can complement the existing business units that are here.”

Yormark’s hiring comes after talk in the sports industry that Roc Nation might hire a veteran sports industry executive, as well as speculation in the Florida press that Yormark might leave the Panthers — so his hiring is not a complete surprise. Additionally, Yormark’s twin brother, Brett, is CEO of the Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets, the NBA club in which Roc Nation Chairman Shawn “Jay Z” Carter formerly held a small ownership stake. He sold that stake after he founded Roc Nation Sports last year.

While there was talk that Michael Yormark’s hiring came out of Jay Z’s relationship with Brett Yormark, Michael Yormark said he’s known both Jay Z and Roc Nation Sports President Juan Perez for years and has done business deals with them for the BB&T Center in South Florida. He said he began talking to the company principals about joining Roc Nation early last summer, but the timing was affected by the Panthers’ being in the middle of a sale. Talks heated up again around Jan. 2, when Jay Z performed at the BB&T Center, Yormark said.

Yormark stressed how much he enjoyed his run with the Panthers, but he said the opportunity to work for Roc Nation came at a time when he was looking to do something on a global platform.

Yormark will keep his home in South Florida, where his wife and daughter live, but he will work out of New York, where Roc Nation and Roc Nation Sports are based. He will report to both Jay Z and to Perez, and he said the familiarity among the group helped facilitate his move.

“I think it was important to them to have somebody that they were familiar with, somebody that they could lean on and have a level of trust in, and they felt comfortable with me,” Yormark said. “In this business, in any business, you tend to hire people you are comfortable with, that you have worked with before, you have confidence in. I think from that perspective it was a very good fit for them and a very good fit for me.”

Roc Nation was founded five years ago, and its roots are in representing musical talent, including Shakira, Rita Ora, J. Cole and Timbaland. Jay Z launched Roc Nation Sports last April, and it counts Robinson Cano, Kevin Durant and Geno Smith among its clients for marketing and playing contract work. (Roc Nation co-represents Durant and Cano with CAA Sports.)

Carter, Perez and Roc Nation Sports vice president Rich Kleiman are certified to represent NBA and MLB players in playing contract work, and Roc Nation agent Kim Miale is certified to represent NFL players in talks with NFL clubs. “I would anticipate we would continue to grow the personnel,” Yormark said, when asked whether Roc Nation Sports would hire additional sports executives or agents.

Bill Marshall, president of Team Marketing, a boutique agency specializing in sports and entertainment, has worked with Yormark for more than a decade and said Yormark’s understanding of brands and what brands want makes him different than any agent Roc Nation might hire. “An agent will look at his player like his kid,” Marshall said.

“Yormark will look at an athlete as a perfect way to integrate a brand into an athlete and the athlete into a brand, like a family, as opposed to a billboard.”

Cliff Viner, former Panthers owner and chairman of AVM Ltd., described Yormark as highly intelligent and very hardworking, but said what makes him special is his high character and integrity and his ability to form relationships with people. “He is a great leader, because of it,” Viner said. “You will always have his loyalty and support if you work for Michael. Michael worked for me, but he always had my back.”

Yormark will work for the parent company Roc Nation, not just the sports group. He called his role “multidimensional.”

“On the Roc Nation corporate side, my primary role will be to develop the brand strategy for our artists and our athletes, but also to seek out both domestic and global partnerships,” he said. “That will be the area that I concentrate on in the short term and in the midterm going forward.”

Yormark also will be working closely with Perez on the sports side, and he said he expects the agency’s sports client list to grow.

“I don’t think we put a limit in terms of how large we want to grow,” he said. “That will be up to Juan Perez, but we are actively pursuing new clients every day in every sport, and we are going to continue to grow this as long as there are athletes out there that fit the characteristics we are looking for.”

He noted the company is looking for athletes interested in developing their brands and careers off the field of play.

Yormark has a hockey background, and Roc Nation Sports does not have NHL player clients. While Yormark said there are no immediate plans to expand into hockey representation, nothing is off the table. “There are some marquee players who would very much be interested in being part of a company like ours,” he said.

He added that a major part of his new position will be navigating the amount of interest in the company and the number of people looking to do business with its chairman.

“There is no question we have one of the best recruiters in America or in the world, when you talk about Jay Z,” Yormark said. “He is one of the most likable entertainers on the globe today. He is the face of this company, he is the brand, and we will leverage that as much as we possibly can to drive the business.”

He added that the culture at Roc Nation also appealed to him.

“I was looking to work for an entrepreneurial company,” Yormark said, “a company that was looking to grow and expand and was fearless. This company is fearless.”