With Mamelodi Sundowns aiming to become a global brand, partnering with American entertainment mogul Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports International is their best shot at getting there fast.
Last month, Roc Nation made its grand entry into African football by entering into a partnership with Sundowns. The deal was its first foray into football on the continent with most of the company’s client base having been in rugby and cricket. Their football clients include football superstars Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea), Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City) and Axel Witsel (Borussia Dortmund).
While it is unusual for an agency to sign up an entire sports club, the deal with Sundowns is not their first of its kind. Early this year, Roc Nation signed a deal with rugby club the Sharks, opening the door for Siya Kolisi to leave the Stormers in Cape Town to join the Durban franchise.
The partnership is part of the vision of new Sundowns chairperson Tlhopie Motsepe who took over the reins in March from his father Patrice, who is now CAF president.
Isaac Lugudde-Katwe, Roc Nation’s director of operations for Africa, said the partnership was about taking the Sundowns brand to the world.
“It was a no-brainer to have them as part of the Roc Nation family. They are in a league of their own. They have a vision that is aligned with ours,” Lugudde-Katwe told City Press. “We help with their brand [marketing], creative activations, digital strategy, commercial sales and community initiatives. We want to show the world what Sundowns is about.”
PSL players to make the grade?
While Roc Nation does not have any PSL footballers on its books, this could change soon. Lugudde-Katwe said the agency’s would soon focus on young African footballers.
“We are soon going to announce the signing of some amazing young footballers. As we are growing the company, we are looking to have more of a presence in African football. Watch this space,” he said but declined to go into more detail.
Long waiting list
The agency’s front office is inundated with requests from professional athletes eager to sign up. While most sports management companies go out to actively recruit clients, it seems like many athletes are approaching the agency to be part of their stable.
This is no surprise considering the allure of being associated with billionaire mogul Jay-Z.
“We are not about quantity, we are about quality. Our clients are athletes who strive to be great,” Lugudde-Katwe said. “Our slogan is that ‘greatness is a process’. We do have a lot of people who would love to be part of Roc Nation but only a few are chosen.”
Founded by Jay-Z, real name Sean Carter, in 2013, Roc Nation has become one of the most disruptive sports agencies in the industry. It has an indelible footprint in the NBA, the NFL, baseball, cricket, rugby and football.
In fact its first collaboration with the Motsepes was in 2018 by bringing the Global Citizen concert to the FNB Stadium. In 2019, the brand branched out of the US, expanding its reach to sports stars in other parts of the world.
That same year, it announced its arrival in Africa with the signing of Springbok captain Kolisi. The agency’s other star clients include Springboks stars Cheslin Kolbe, Sbu Nkosi and the Proteas’ pair of Lungi Ngidi and Temba Bavuma.
The Jay-Z factor and involvement
The growth of Roc Nation shows the influence of its founder Jay-Z. The rapper, philanthropist and entrepreneur has built an empire that stretches into music, entertainment, sport, media and technology.
“When you look at the story of our owner Jay-Z it resonates with our athletes. Jay-Z is a hall of famer, philanthropist and one of the best entrepreneurs in the world and naturally people gravitate towards someone like that because he has planted the seed of hope and inspiration,” Lugudde-Katwe said.
With the signing of all these world-class athletes, does Jay-Z keep tabs on their progress? “Jay-Z and the other founders are heavily involved in the business. You would have seen the picture of Jay-Z and Lukaku before he went to Chelsea, so he is actively involved in the company.”
Vision for Africa
The agency will officially launch its Africa office in Johannesburg in January. Lugudde-Katwe leads the agency’s operation on the continent and works closely with company president Michael Yormark.
Lugudde-Katwe, the US-born former basketball player with Ugandan heritage, explained Roc Nation’s objectives on the continent: “Our involvement in Africa was with the Global Citizen concert in 2018 and before from a music standpoint. We then opened our international office [in London] in September 2019 and signed Siya,” he said.
“We saw Siya lead the Springboks to the World Cup and felt compelled to help tell his story. We amplify the brands of our clients and grow their visibility. We are not just a sport agency we are a movement.”