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Jay-Z Looks to Roc the Sports World

CAA partnership in the athlete management biz makes the rap and business star a key player

When CAA Sports and Roc Nation, the entertainment shingle founded by rapper-entrepreneur Jay-Z, announced April 2 they were partnering to create athlete management firm Roc Nation Sports, the headlines were bigger in the sports section than on the entertainment pages — thanks to Robinson Cano (pictured below).

(From the pages of the April 9 issue of Variety.)

Cano, the New York Yankees’ All-Star second baseman, who as a free agent after this season will be eligible to sign with any team if he doesn’t ink a contract extension with the Yankees, signed on as Roc Nation Sports’ first client. News that Cano intended to drop the notoriously difficult Scott Boras as his agent was scrutinized for meaning by Yankee fans everywhere. Nevertheless, the Roc Nation Sports announcement could reverberate more in Hollywood than it does in the House That Ruth Built.

Sports and entertainment have been increasingly crossing paths for some time now, but the CAA-Roc Nation partnership offers a reminder of the untapped potential for entertainment agencies in the sports world.

Certainly, that part of the biz has been lucrative for CAA. Since 2011, CAA Sports has negotiated Major League contracts worth a combined $1.1 billion — and that’s just in baseball. Overall, CAA Sports represents more than 800 athletes, in addition to coaches, on-air broadcasters and sports personalities, and provides a gateway to licensing, endorsement, speaking, philanthropy and videogame opportunities.

Meanwhile, Roc Nation, whose roster of recording-artist clients includes Rihanna and Shakira, now has a valuable gateway into the sports world. Under his new deal, Cano will be represented in baseball by a team of agents led by CAA Sports’ Brodie Van Wagenen, but Cano also has an eye on endeavors that Roc Nation Sports (headed by prexy Juan Perez and Jay-Z) can boost.

On its own, CAA Sports has been able to offer access to opportunities for players in television and film during and after their careers. Combining forces with Roc Nation, the percentery could do even more.

“Jay-Z and his team at Roc Nation have successfully orchestrated powerful brand and business-building opportunities for their clients,” CAA Sports co-head Michael Levine said.

Jay-Z himself is expected to seek certification as an agent, though if he hopes to represent NBA players, he would have to sell off his minority share in the Brooklyn Nets. That ownership could affect his status as a baseball agent as well, given that the Nets’ cable broadcaster is the YES Network (as in Yankees Entertainment and Sports).

Entertainment involvement in player rep includes a cautionary tale — the ill-fated venture of rapper Master P’s No Limit Sports, which negotiated a contract for NFL running back Ricky Williams that ESPN 10 years later labeled the worst for a player in the history of the league, in that it valued hard-to-reach incentives over guaranteed cash. Fears of a repeat in Cano’s case are low, thanks to the CAA involvement.

As for whether Cano will be wearing a Yankee uniform in 2014 … The hometown team of CAA, the Los Angeles Dodgers, has been touted as an offseason target for the second baseman, but diehard New Yorker Jay-Z famously rapped, “I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can.”

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