Jay-Z Might Just Run This Town With Growing Role In The Sports World

Written By Mike Mazzeo on August 24, 2021
Jay-Z Roc Nation Sports

Perhaps we should’ve seen this coming.

On July 4, Michael Rubin, CEO of Fanatics and co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, hosted a lavish, white-themed party in the Hamptons.

It brought out celebrities of all sorts.

After the festivities ended, Rubin posted an Instagram photo of himself and hip-hop mogul and Roc Nation founder, Jay-Z. Rubin, it appeared, was drinking a massive bottle of Jay-Z’s Ace of Spades champagne (Page Six reported that Rubin sent bottles of the Jay-Z champagne as part of his party invites).

Maybe it was also a celebratory toast of sorts.

After all, a month later, the two men are in the sports wagering business together.

Empire State of Mind

Jay-Z was among a group of investors who poured in $325 million in Fanatics during the company’s latest round of funding. The 51-year-old Brooklyn native was also named vice chairman/board member of Fanatics Betting & Gaming, essentially the face of the company’s next venture: creating its own sportsbook.

Fanatics is hopeful to win a coveted online sports betting bid in New York. And Jay-Z, who was also a minority owner of the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets from 2003-13, will be a key figure in that pursuit. (The Nets, who have a partnership with Fanatics, are supporting the bid, as first reported by PlayNY. Roc Nation is also a partner of Fanatics).

According to the redacted bid posted by the New York State Gaming Commission, Jay-Z’s role will be to “help (Fanatics’ gaming division) attract new customers, engage existing sports bettors, and expand the overall footprint of the Fanatics sportsbook.”

For Jay-Z, it seems like everything is coming full circle once again. This is yet another opportunity for his personal brand to help enhance one of his partner’s respective brands.

“Jay-Z’s name resonates in a way that most names don’t,” a source who knows Jay-Z well told PlayNY. “It shouldn’t be a surprise that as new industries develop and new platforms emerge, Jay-Z is going to be part of them. In many respects, he’s been ahead of the curve since Day 1.”

Here’s a look at how we got here:

The Blueprint For Greatness

According to several reports at the time, it was Jason Kidd who first mentioned to Jay-Z that the hip-hop mogul should invest in the Nets during a conversation the two had at Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club in Manhattan in 2003. Jay-Z purchased a minority stake in the team as part of Bruce Ratner’s group, and served as a minority owner for the next decade.

Jay-Z’s greatest contribution to the franchise was getting Brooklyn’s iconic black and white uniforms approved by the NBA. (He didn’t create the team’s logo, a man named Timothy Morris, who had done design work for Jay-Z over the years, did). He also opened the $1 billion Barclays Center with a concert on Sept. 28, 2012.

Even so, Jay-Z served as the face of a franchise that didn’t really have one until recently. His stature was supposed to help the Nets land either LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but both superstars wound up elsewhere. A billboard featuring then Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov, Jay-Z, and the slogan “The Blueprint for Greatness” across the street from Madison Square Garden caused quite a stir. And Jay-Z uttered his famous line “the city is under new management” in 2012 after the Nets beat the Knicks. But there ultimately wasn’t much on-court success during Jay-Z’s tenure.

As to avoid a conflict of interest when he started Roc Nation’s sports management division in 2013, Jay-Z sold his stake (by that point, it was just 1/6th of one percent), half of which was purchased by Kidd, then the team’s head coach, for $500,000.

Roc Boys (And the Winner is…)

According to a Washington Post story from 2016, Jay-Z got into the sports agency game after having several conversations with athletes at his 40/40 Club that would inevitably turn to the business side. So Jay-Z decided to expand his client list from music artists to athletes.

Jay-Z got certified and partenered with CAA on a two-year agreement. His first big move was landing Robinson Cano. Cano ultimately cashed in for a 10-year, $240 million free-agent deal with the Seattle Mariners. Jay-Z, who isn’t a “day-to-day” agent, per se, given all his other entrepreneurial ventures, reportedly wanted $310 million.

Jay-Z also counted Kevin Durant and Victor Cruz among the agency’s earliest clients. Roc Nation’s other notable New York clients have included CC Sabathia (now retired), Saquon Barkley, and Kyrie Irving (who recently parted ways with the agency, per reports). The agency’s soccer division also continues to expand, highlighted by Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku.

According to the Post report, Roc Nation was accused of poaching clients and investigated by the NFL Players Association for skirting rules before being ultimately absolved.

In 2019, Jay-Z brought in former Nets CEO Brett Yormark to work as co-CEO of Roc Nation Unified with his twin brother, Michael Yormark. Jay-Z and Brett had worked together for several years as the Nets successfully moved from East Rutherford, NJ to Brooklyn.

According to Forbes, Jay-Z ranked 27th among all 2020 sports agents in commissions with $28.7 million for Roc Nation Sports off total client contracts of $1.1 billion.

What’s Free

In June, Jay-Z, Meek Mill, and Rubin surprised Robert Kraft with a $240,000 Bentley for the Patriots’ owner’s 80th birthday.

All four men are part of the REFORM Alliance, which started in 2019 after “the unjust re-imprisonment of recording artist Meek Mill.” Its aim is to reform the criminal justice system.

Rubin is listed with Mill as co-chairs of the board of directors. Founding partners include Jay-Z, Kraft, and Clara Wu Tsai, co-owner of the Nets along with her husband, Joe Tsai. The Tsais have contributed $10 million to the Alliance, according to a NetsDaily report.

Also in 2019, Meek Mill partnered with Jay-Z and Roc Nation to become CEO of his own record label, Dream Chasers.

Get This Money

Based on projections, sports betting provides another lucrative opportunity for everyone involved.

Former NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office projected online sports betting could bring $500 million annually to the state, though lawmakers cautioned that figure is ambitious.

In any event, Fanatics, which is also taking over the sports trading card world, showed it was a serious player in the space after hiring outgoing FanDuel CEO Matt King to head its betting and gaming division. Its bid also includes Penn National Gaming and Barstool Sportsbook. According to TMZ, Jay-Z previously held gaming licenses in New Jersey and Nevada from when he had 40/40 Clubs open in Atlantic City and Las Vegas.

Fanatics, though, may not win the bid in New York. The FanDuel/ DraftKings/BetMGM/Ballys bid (supported by the Yankees, Bills, and Sabres) and the Caesars/PointsBet/BetRivers/WynnBet consortium are considered by many in the industry to be the favorites for the two spots.

Still, there is a rumor that the Brooklyn Nets could eventually open its sportsbook at Barclays Center in Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club. That would really be everything coming full circle, especially if it is run by Fanatics.

Photo by AP / Tyler Kaufman
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Mike Mazzeo

Mike Mazzeo is a contributing writer for PlayNY, reporting on legal sports betting in New York while covering the potential legalization of NY online casinos and poker. He previously wrote for ESPN, the New York Daily News and The Ringer, among others.

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