Roc Nation, the talent management company owned and operated by rap legend Jay-Z, has become among the first companies to partner up with the new United Rugby Championship, promising a major shakeup of the way the new league is promoted and marketed. Roc Nation was founded in 2008, adding its sports arm Roc Nation Sports in 2013, and is a major player in the entertainment world. With offices in New York, London and Los Angeles, they represent some of the biggest names in the sports world and recently have expanded into rugby – among their clients are Maro Itoje, Cheslin Kolbe, the URC bound Springbok captain Siya Kolisi and, interestingly, Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira, the World Cup winner who’s currently player/coach at the partly SRU-owned Old Glory DC in Major League Rugby.
This kind of worldwide reach could be key for the success of this new partnership and the new URC – Roc Nation’s athletes in other sports are stars in some of the most successful and well marketed leagues in the world and this past season MLR has tried to emulate some of their most popular aspects with more than a little success – the star-studded, defence-optional North American product might not be to everyone’s taste on the pitch, but its game centre website showing every match free and on-demand and some slick social media work from both the league and its teams have made it one of the most engaging competitions in the rugby world. If Roc Nation can do something similar with URC, it should bring unprecedented new interest in the competition.
This is just one aspect of Roc Nation’s desire to diversify the league, and their desire to focus much more on player-led engagement is perhaps even more interesting. Their launch statement already trumpets the development of a “Player Advisory Group” where players can express their opinion on how the competition is being marketed, but sources suggest that they’ll go even further than that. Roc Nation encourages their athletes to speak up for matters both on and off the field that they believe in and have a strong social justice ethos, and it’s believed they plan to bring that attitude to their URC work. This could be a game-changing moment for rugby in the five URC countries – a strong, engaging message from star players on issues outside of rugby could potentially draw in interest from millions of people outside of the “traditional” rugby-watching community.
In short, this partnership has the potential to be unlike anything ever seen in rugby before – a real breath of fresh air with different attitudes and approaches to how the game should be presented and promoted which could turn the game on to a whole diverse new audience if it’s done well, and there’s no evidence to suggest that Roc Nation is anything other than great at what they do. Along with the interesting new league format and the removal of clashes with international weekends to keep the top stars available, this new partnership shows a real desire on the part of the URC to genuinely try something new and interesting to bring up the quality of presentation and output of the league which could be great for the Scottish teams and players involved, as well as the bottom line of the SRU. Will we see Beyonce handing over the 1872 Cup though? Sadly, probably not.