Kevin Durant left his agent Rob Pelinka to join Jay-Z’s new sports agency Roc Nation over the weekend. Adding to Skylar Diggins, Robinson Cano, and Geno Smith, Durant is not only the first NBA athlete to join the agency, but by far the biggest name. He is simply a game changer for Roc Nation.
It’s easy to see why Durant would want to be associated with Roc Nation, specifically Jay-Z, outside of all the brand benefits. Jay-Z is one of the most popular cultural figures in the last twenty years. His Roc-A-Fella music soundtracked kids who grew up in the 90s and 2000s. Those same kids not only wanted to make music like Jay-Z, they wanted to make moves like Jay-Z.
It was Jay-Z’s entrepreneurial moves outside of music that made him an icon. Along with Roc-A-Fella boss Dame Dash, he started the fashion line Roc-A-Wear, which sold for $204 million in March of 2007. He co-owns the upscale lounge 40/40 Club in Manhattan, Atlantic City, and Chicago. He is in charge of branding at Budweiser Select; he was an executive producer of NBA 2K13; he created the soundtrack for “The Great Gatsby”; he was part of the ownership group that brought the Nets to Brooklyn and had a hand in their new logo design. His is a story of a kid from Brooklyn’s unforgiving housing projects who went on to own a part of the Brooklyn Nets. His moves have projected an aura of cool, class, and confidence that coincides with the aspirational generation. It was this rise that became his brand and ultimately attracted Kevin Durant’s brand.
Not that Kevin Durant’s former agent, Rob Pelinka, stood idly on the sidelines during Durant’s rise to NBA scoring champion. He has sponsorships with Nike, Sprint, Gatorade, and General Electric, among others. He’s been in memorable commercials. His Nike shoe line grossed $35 million last year. That’s even more impressive considering that he doesn’t play in a larger market. And yet, it wasn’t enough. One can make all the right moves, but cool is still the x-factor.
This move is as much about Jay-Z’s pop culture brand as it is about Kevin Durant’s sports brand. It is easy to forget that Roc Nation is still a new sports agency. There must be questions about their ability to market athletes, to get the job done, though that may be missing the point. Success in Durant’s case will be measured in marketing dollars. Yet his brand is already associated with Jay-Z’s brand. And just being associated is branding success in itself.