By: Nick Friedman and Kyungmin Lee
Post the absurdity that was Robinson Cano officially signing for 10 years $240 million---a Mariners front office money grab of high profile desperation and dysfunction assumedly making the Dominican the highest paid to be 41 year-old athlete in professional sports history---I conventionally took to Facebook to offer an opinion: Jay-Z should never have the right to negotiate a player contract. Ever. Again. While some response resonated with what I’ll later explain as a hollow, far from transcendent moment in the legacy of Sean “Dot” Carter, others scoffed with confusion: What? Cano got a ridiculous deal. How is that bad for Jay-Z? Indeed, if Jay-Z—I’ll apologize for my painfully cliché lyrical allusion now rather than later---had 99 problems during his foray into the world of baseball representation, finding a $240 million suitor for someone having never finished higher than third in MVP balloting ain’t one of them, right? Reports of Hov’s nonchalant, “runner’s” approach plastered with baseball negligence nearly spoiling negotiations? Pitching Cano as the “Michael Jordan of Baseball”? A clear-cut misappropriation of generational talent and market analysis more idiotic than Tila Tequila’s recent, incoherent public relations ploy of sparking controversy a la the role of Hitler Sympathizer (bizarre)? Who cares?
In the end, however, the thought was he and his colleagues were able to essentially get the Mariners to bid against themselves, Cano pocketed $42 million more in after-tax pay than the New York Yankees best offer, a coup resulted and, to quote Roc Sports Nation client Victor Cruz sentiments that resonate widely with public belief as it pertains to Jay-Z’s stake as sports agent: "I think this is just a stepping stone…It proves that anything can be done if you put your mind into it. It's a true testament to the way he does his business. He does it the right way."
Ah, yes, the right way. According to the cutthroat discipline of sports agency, what exactly is the right way? Well, in my own attempt to learn the business through conversation with a dear friend and an understudy of Fred Fried—the co-founder and principal of Team Services LLC responsible for directing the marketing success of Michael Jordan, Steve Young, Boomer Esiason and Dan Jensen—the generalized way of “right” is defined by, well, what you think it should conventionally be defined by. Straight shooting, willing to do whatever it takes to vouch for the optimal most financial betterment of the client and finding oneself held in high regard. High regard. See, in the more often than not overwhelmingly hostile world of sports agent, there remains a traditionalized, civil, moralistic (as it pertains to the business) component. Much like in any business, the first step to getting what you want is to develop a network. Genuinely respected meets an extensive network meets perennially touted as having put together deals that are fair equates to no future standoffishness displayed by those who are responsible for rewarding one’s clients with their desired ends. Executives love fair. That means not entering negotiations with the mentality of Mafioso or a Don Juan and having the wherewithal to throw a gaudy $250 million in the face of executive legend immersed in 30 years of baseball operations expertise (shout out Chuck Thompson). Oh, and acting upon the aforementioned despite having zero conception of the term of Sabermetrics let alone Baseball. If If Jay-Z rocked his Reasonable Doubt album over outfit, then I thoroughly apologize.
On that note, what really happened on the eve of Cano’s finalized 10 years, $240 million? Well, according to a source whom asked that he not be revealed, Jay-Z, Cano, an assistant to co-head of Creative Arts Agency baseball (not Brodie van Wagenen) met that Thursday prior with Chuck Thompson (the man who discovered Ken Griffey Jr./as revered as baseball opps guys get) and Mariners President, Howard Lincoln—Jay apparently requested that he handle this without van Wagenen and “close negotiations alone.” Meeting begins, Jay avoids any due diligence of analytics and, boom, its “Naw, we’re not taking anything less than 10 years, $250 million.” As reported, Lincoln freaks (as does Thompson per my account) and meeting immediately ends. Brodie gets hold of the news, is beyond furious and embarrassed, phones Lincoln other Mariners reps, thoroughly apologies for the “this-is-terrible-for-us” blunder on hours, negotiates Coup for Cano without Jay, and Robinson ends up with $15 million more than intended.
So while print media hype of Jay-Z accompanying Brodie van Wagenen of CAA in a club with Scott Boras and Dan Lozano as the only agents ever to negotiate contracts of $200 million plus festers, the reality is Jay-Z got his ass kicked. Hence, the aforementioned hollow moment of transcendent cultural relevance. A win for van Wagenen, not Jay-Z.
Look, my intention is not to, for lack of a better word demonize Jay-Z. He’s done it his way and emerged from it all without a stain on his shirt; not a businessman, but a business-MAN. The pied piper of chic with the power to manipulate a façade of minority ownership like non-other; using one sixth of one percent stake to reinvent the national relevance of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays is what we’d all consider nothing short of brilliant. There is undoubtedly place for the ambitious Jay-Z to diversify strategy and shake up sports business. No if’s, and’s or but’s Roc Nation Sports ultimately proves beyond successful in differentiating itself from other agents and agencies in its ability to put clients together with the most creative of market merging opportunities, augmenting players’ income with lucrative endorsement deals.
Let us also not forget, in good laughter, that Jay-Z is already significantly more polished than Percy Miller ever was. Step one: don’t spell Sam Cassell, “Same Casselle.” Step two: acknowledge all credibility is lost when 60 year old white men must contact firstname.lastname@example.org. And Step 3: don’t tell ESPN how “No Limit Sports Management is different from other agencies, because he (Master P) can relate to the players more and help them in more than just sports." You’ll end up with one of the worst sales pitches known to sports.
But in Jay’s unconventional rapid, rise through short-cutted certification predicated specifically on name and cool as opposed to credibility, we’re reminded that the inherent, narcissism of a MC has no place in negotiating THE biggest contracts in sports. Particularly when such narcissism is accompanied by a perspective of the sports world comparable to that of the ho-hum fan. Sure, he’ll have his seat at the table when Kevin Durant signs his $80 to $100 million dollar contract extension come 2016-17---hopefully, Jay-Z understands there’s no place to shove his ludicrous on Sam Presti because the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement and the troublesome nature salary cap/luxury tax restrictions are the bane of small market organizations like Oklahoma City. And his Skylar Diggins initiative will undoubtedly unfold as monumental for the business of women’s sports Nonetheless, his attempt to glutinously reap the benefits of Major League Baseball’s disturbing lack of financial due diligence more than what was actually deserved not only resulted in revealing Jay-Z’s true colors as a mogul in it to purely leave a stamp of cultural relevance, but also an egregious loss of internal respect. To quote my source:
No MLB team will want to deal let alone meet with Jay-Z. When you have a president of a team walk out of a meeting, that gets around. He’s a runner, not an agent. And because of that disconnect, he’s f*cked himself in baseball. Never deserved to be in that room. That's the reality of it. Unless Brodie’s their main point of contact, Roc Nation will no longer be an easy sign in baseball.
Who knows if Cano’s thrives in Seattle and helps lure other players to the Pacific Northwest. Or if he’s traveled 3,000 miles for a lengthy run in the baseball wilderness, where he’ll be surrounded by .500 talent and wake up to find himself miserable and irrelevant. Cano finds himself in the latter, and Jay-Z fails in the primary objective to achieve transcendent, Michael Jordan-esque external glory for his client. “Shit, I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can.” Really? So it behooved you to move your client from the epicenter of creativity, sports and ethnicity to the far West for the sake of MLB history? Moronic in and of itself. Well, if Starbucks doesn’t suffice, there’s always Columbian Coffee Crystals
The major upside? Cano is the second best second basemen in baseball (Dustin Pedroia…hello) and according to data cited by Sportsnation from Pew Research's Hispanic Trends Project, “there were 51.9 million Hispanic people living in America in 2011, a 4% increase over the last ten-year period between censuses and other such increase appears likely. More importantly, for baseball this demographic is younger than any of the other major racial or ethnic groups in the country with a median age of just 27. That gives baseball hope for a new influx of passionate fans who are in the middle of the most coveted age group and approach an age where buying power generally increases.”
As promising as promising stats get. Goodluck, Hov.