The marriage between sports and hip hop is nothing new. Whether it’s some of the world’s biggest athletes jumping into the booth or chart-topping artists shouting out their favorite sports figures, the interlocking worlds have been mutually beneficial to each other for a very long time. Lately, the union between the two has sauntered into the boardroom, with some of the most successful record labels trying their hands at athlete representation. Part of the attraction to the sports industry could be due in large part to the volatility of the music industry. Athletics have proven to be a steady revenue driver, even withstanding the brutal hits of the coronavirus pandemic.
JAY-Z’s Roc Nation Sports is one of the more recognizable music/sports agencies boasting a star-packed roster. The 24-time Grammy winner founded the division back in the spring of 2013 with headquarters in NYC. Partnering with the prominent Creative Artists Agency, Roc Nation Sports established themselves quickly, signing MLB All-Star second baseman Robinson Canó. Later that same year, it was reported JAY-Z had become an officially certified agent for the NBA and MLB. Since then, the agency has expanded to include cricket, football, international football, netball, and rugby. Roc Nation Sports’ client list reads as a who’s who across the board. Stars currently signed to the agency include Canó, LaMelo Ball, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Romelu Lukaku, Saquon Barkley, Dez Bryant, Leonard Fournette, Danny Green, Rudy Gay, Todd Gurley, Jaire Alexander and Ronnie Stanley. More recently, the list of services has expanded to include broadcaster representation as well. The agency’s site states the division was established for the purpose of “supporting athletes in the same way Roc Nation has been working alongside and advocating for artists in the music industry for years. Roc Nation Sports focuses on elevating athletes’ careers on a global scale both on and off the field. Roc Nation Sports conceptualizes and executes marketing and endorsement deals, community outreach, charitable tie-ins, media relations, and brand strategy.” While JAY-Z is certainly a trailblazer in the field, we would be remiss to approach this subject without giving proper credit and recognition to the man, the myth, the legend, Master P.
Master P, whose real name is Percy Miller, has literally lived out every single childhood – and adult – dream one could imagine. After founding No Limit Records back in 1991 in the Bay Area, he relocated the label to New Orleans in 1995 and focused on local talent. Artists signed to No Limit included Snoop Dogg, Mercedes, Silkk the Shocker, Mystikal, Mia X, Mac, C-Murder, Magic, Romeo Miller, Fiend, Kane & Abel, and Soulja Slim. Although he won five Grammys, music is only a fraction of Miller’s success. In addition to a short stint in the NBA with the Charlotte Hornets and the Toronto Raptors, the Calliope Projects hustler branched out into film, television, writing, clothing, and even professional wrestling. His love for sports led to the formation of No Limit Sports Management in 2000. When running back Ricky Williams was drafted by the New Orleans Saints with the No. 5 overall pick in 1999, he was represented by No Limit Sports Management. The contract was widely regarded as one of the worst for any player in the history of the NFL (at the time). The deal was front-loaded with a heavy signing bonus and the minimum salary. So, just as quickly as it had arrived, No Limit Sports Management fizzled out. While Miller didn’t enjoy the immense success in the sports industry that he did in his other ventures, it still paved the way for music executives interested in dabbling in the sports representation pool.
Another New Orleans-based record label that blew up in the late 90s was Cash Money Records. Although the two Bayou-based companies feuded, it’s fair to say Cash Money Records loosely followed the blueprint set forth by Miller as it pertains to diversification. In 2014, the company decided to make its mark in athletics with the formation of Cash Money Sports (CMS). In March of that year, it was reported CMS signed their first high profile client — current Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, who was coming out of Texas A&M. It was later confirmed that CMS was handling marketing for the eventual Super Bowl winner. One of Cash Money Records’ pioneer stars Lil Wayne — henceforth referred to as Dwayne Carter — formed Young Money Records in 2005. The label was highly successful, counting Nicki Minaj, Drake, DJ Khaled, Christina Milian, and others as its artists. By 2016, Young Money APAA Sports was created. The brainchild of Carter and Young Money COO Cortez Bryant, the agency lists over 60 high-profile athletes as clients. In 2017, the company acquired PlayersRep Sports Management, where agent Nicole Lynn worked. In January of 2019, standout lineman for the Alabama Crimson Tide, Quinnen Williams, announced he was signing with Young Money APAA Sports. Williams joined eight other Young Money APAA Sports signees in that year’s draft class. When the New York Jets selected the all-American and national champion with the No. 3 overall pick, it was a momentous achievement for both the agency and Lynn. She became the first African American woman to represent a top-five NFL draft pick. As far as the acquisition goes, the University of Oklahoma alum says she and Carter share the same vision. “Lil Wayne got into the business for the same reason I got into the business,” Lynn told Andscape. “He wanted to give back to players. He wanted to help them when football was over. At the end of the day, we can all identify with this. Lil Wayne doesn’t need this money, this sports money. It isn’t for that. He’s doing it for a bigger purpose, and I love that. I love working with people every day that walk with the same purpose, and that’s super powerful.”
Boasting some of hip hop’s biggest musical acts is an attractive selling point as well. As Williams put it when speaking with ESPN, “I signed with, like, basically Drake and Nicki Minaj. That’s crazy.” That perspective seemed to resonate with Quality Control Music. Founded in 2013 by Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “P” Thomas, one could argue QC is the new age version of Bad Boy, Cash Money, and Death Row Records all rolled into one. Many of the highest selling hip hop acts are signed to the Atlanta-based label, including the City Girls, Migos, Lil Yachty, and Lil Baby. They also have a management deal with megastar Cardi B. With a nickname like Coach K, it comes as no surprise that the label ventured into sports. QC Sports describes itself as “a full service sports management, branding, and marketing agency.” Among their clients is New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara. The five-time pro bowler also happens to be Coach K’s nephew. Kamara is one of sixteen current NFL clients. The label is also expanding into esports after investing into startup company XSet. Within the partnership, QC Holdings will look to create a number of short and long-form video series, recruit and manage gaming talent, co-host events, and create merchandise. During Super Bowl weekend in Los Angeles this year, QC Sports held a brunch event called “The Pregame.” In addition to good food and drinks, guests were treated to onsite gaming provided by XSet.
As the industry evolves, expect more and more labels dipping their toes into the pool of sports management to diversify as well as stabilize revenues streams. With artists becoming more and more business savvy, the marriage between sports and music will continue to move beyond a couple of song hooks or bars dropping the names of athletes and evolve into strategic partnerships that are beneficial to all parties involved.