Jay Z and Roc Nation Enter Boxing World as Promoter
Rapper-turned-sports agent Jay Z is a boxing fan who occasionally slips on the gloves as part of his fitness routine at Chelsea Piers.
Now the multi-tasking mogul is making a push into boxing on the corporate side with Roc Nation Sports, the agency he created, conceiving a boxing division and hiring longtime fight executive Dave Itskowitch to run it, according to ESPN.com.
The plan is to promote cards and also to turn boxers into celebrities, transforming them into cultural figures similar to the athletes the agency represents, such as Kevin Durant, CC Sabathia and Victor Cruz. The agency has yet to sign any fighters but has obtained licenses to promote in New York and Washington.
“This is an opportunity for us to change the game,” Michael Yormark, president and chief of branding and strategy for Roc Nation who is also the twin brother of Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark, told ESPN. “Jay Z has an incredible passion for boxing. We want to take the platform we’ve created and bring that to the boxing industry. We want to bring more money and visibility to the sport and give the boxers opportunities outside the ring.”
For a sport that is mired in a mini-depression with most of the fighters unrecognizable to the casual sports fan and a heavyweight division in disarray, those are lofty goals. But Yormark is confident the muscle and clout of Roc Nation Sports can succeed.
“There’s no question Roc Nation Sports can create celebrity status for boxers and align them with corporate America,” Yormark said. “Look at the success we’ve had with our athletes and (recording)artists (represented by parent company Roc Nation). That is what we do, and we do that better than anyone. We will be able to build brands for these boxers and build their careers outside of the ring. That’s the difference that Roc Nation will bring to this sport.”
Jay Z isn’t the first hip-hop mogul to try his hand at boxing. Damon Dash, the former rap impresario who co-founded Roc-A-Fella Records (with Jay Z), teamed with boxing promoter Lou DiBella for a time (Itskowitch worked for DiBella during Dash’s foray into the sport).
And manager James Prince, founder of Rap-A-Lot Records, continues to be a force in the industry.
Most recently, 50 Cent has made a go of it as a boxing promoter, finding moderate success.
But Itskowitch, who formerly worked for DiBella at HBO and later when DiBella set out on his own as a promoter and later for Golden Boy Promotions, articulated something grander.
Attempts to reach Yormark and Itskowitch were not immediately successful.
“We’re looking to make an immediate and dramatic impact on the sport,” said Itskowitch, who intends to promote a card before the end of the year, according to the ESPN.com story. “We feel we can do that, and we plan to build Roc Nation Sports into a boxing brand by leveraging Roc Nation’s current marketing, public relations and branding infrastructure. We’re going to brand Roc Nation Sports fighters, and we’re confident that branding will lead to financial opportunities both in and out of the ring that will be available nowhere else.”