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Today’s update covers Roc Nation’s new partnership with the NFL and Jay Z’s decision to put his debut album Reasonable Doubt on every streaming service except Spotify and Apple Music (lol).
Note, this update is longer than most, but I don’t think you’ll mind.
Didn’t I just write AND record a podcast on how wild of a year Roc Nation has had? Two weeks later, that news has already been topped. The entertainment company has teamed with the NFL to produce entertainment and bolster the league’s social justice efforts. Both sides were aware of the negative perception but shared their justification.
From ESPN, here’s Jay Z:
“We forget that Colin’s whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice. In that case, this is a success. This is the next phase,” the entertainment magnate said. “There [are] two parts of protesting. You go outside and you protest, and then the company or the individual says, ‘I hear you. What do we do next?’
“For me it’s like action, [an] actionable item, what are we gonna do with it? Everyone heard, we hear what you’re saying, and everybody knows I agree with what you’re saying [in Kaepernick’s underlying message]. So what are we gonna do? You know what I’m saying? [Help] millions and millions of people, or we get stuck on Colin not having a job.”
And here’s NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell:
“I don’t think either one of us expected that this relationship wouldn’t have its critics,” Goodell said. “But you don’t let the critics or the negativity overwhelm the chance to do something really positive. We talked about this [Kaepernick’s situation].
“We talked about a variety of issues. When we first met, we talked about entertainment and how we do that. But the No. 1 thing we went to was impact, that we can have an impact together, and that we can do some really positive things in our communities.”
Both Jay and Goodell have an (overly) pragmatic desire to do ‘something’ about the issues that Colin Kaepernick raised three years ago. That’s clear. But instead of focusing on the narrative “Jay Z’s a billionaire, what else would you expect?” as many other outlets have done this week, let’s actually break this down. It’s important to understand why Jay Z made this move and how he likely rationalized the tradeoffs. To be clear, this isn’t to defend Jay Z. One of Trapital’s value-adds is the context brought to business decisions it both agrees and disagrees with.
Jay hopes that this partnership will yield direct and indirect benefits. Roc Nation is in the business of managing artists and athletes. Stars have a choice of where to sign. They choose Roc Nation because of its access. For instance, it offers artists an opportunity to perform at Roc Nation boxing matches, live events at the Barclays Center, and sponsorship deals with adjacent brands. Artists like Fabolous, Fat Joe, and Jadakiss have benefitted from these deals. But those artists aren’t big enough for the Super Bowl Halftime Show—the largest stage in entertainment.
Now that Roc Nation influences the halftime show, it can attract bigger-name artists who want a chance to perform at the show someday. It also signals powers for Roc Nation Sports. Its stable of athletes has grown, but there are few if any, MVP-caliber players signed. It once had Kevin Durant signed, but he and his agent Rich Kleinman, formerly with Roc Nation, are now independent.
Jay Z understood the impending negative response to the partnership, but he probably felt that it would be temporary. Travis Scott received temporary backlash for performing at the Super Bowl, and none of that backlash has stuck. Additionally, the NFL was once beloved in American culture and with black folks. Jay probably thinks that might be temporary too. If Jay can be the one to bridge the gap and shift the culture back, it would serve him well. All this time, Jay Z has maintained his financial interests with the NFL’s athletes.
Unfortunately for Jay Z, this NFL partnership will likely disappoint for several reasons.
In this week’s press conference, Jay and Roger Goodell focused their defense of the partnership on the Colin Kaepernick-related issues. The Kaepernick situation is important—and still unresolved— but it can’t be viewed in isolation. It is one of several issues that have plagued the NFL and its image. Domestic abuse and player safety with concussions are still problems. Even if Kaepernick gets signed to a team, those issues will still remain. The declining public image of the NFL–and its commissioner whose leadership fell short in critical moments–will still be there too.
The partnership will also disappoint from a business perspective. The Super Bowl Halftime Show sets artists up for failure. The increased streams that artists get are temporary. It doesn’t usually lead to additional business opportunities. Here’s what I wrote the weekend before this year’s Super Bowl:
“In entertainment, the Super Bowl halftime show is well past the saturation point. Artists try to please everyone with widely-accessible shows. The end result is an overly-generic performance that’s a layup for critics to hate on. Even stars with more ubiquitous fandom, like Bruno Mars and Beyoncé, were still criticized after their Super Bowl performances.
Since this trend is almost a given, several media outlets have probably already drafted story outlines that read something like this: “Maroon 5 bores, Travis Scott disappoints, but hey, Big Boi still got it!”
And that’s pretty much how it played out.
The NFL and Roc Nation could have got ahead of this by sharing a high-level outline of how they plan to address these issues. It wouldn’t have silenced all the critics, but it would have instilled more confidence. Folks are willing to get behind a well-intended plan, even if it’s unlikely to achieve its ultimate goal. Progress is a spectrum. Most folks understand that. But what most folks don’t understand, is why Jay Z and Goodell would postpone the important specifics. The devil is truly in the details, regardless of what the NFL and Roc Nation decide to publicly share.
Reasonable Doubt is Everywhere Except Spotify and Apple Music (Complex)
JAY-Z‘s debut studio album will now be available on YouTube Music Premium, SoundCloud, Google Play Music, Amazon Music, iTunes, iHeartRadio, Napster, Pandora, Tesla, Slacker, and—as before—TIDAL. Apple Music and Spotify, however, are still without.
“Reasonable Doubt is one of the preeminent albums in history and we’re thrilled to distribute this classic body of work to music lovers worldwide,” Krystian Santini—president of Equity Distribution—said in a statement. “This is a landmark milestone for Equity Distribution and we look forward to continuing to expand our platform and collaborate with talented artists from different backgrounds.”
Jay Z has taken his albums on and off different streaming services several times now, so the decision isn’t too surprising. But it’s hilarious that it got on Tesla. Yes, Elon Musk got Reasonable Doubt before Tim Cook. What a time.
Spotify and Apple Music are the two biggest digital streaming providers. Jay Z knows this, but there are two reasons why Jay Z likely singled them out. First, it’s a way to measure isolated potential. Jay Z might want to partner with one of these other “underdog” streaming services in the future. In a world dominated by Spotify and Apple Music, it’s hard to gauge the potential of other companies. Jay Z can better gauge his popularity on those services, which can lead to a future deal. Second, Jay Z might gear up for a broader “re-release” of Reasonable Doubt on Spotify and Apple Music. This could include a rollout, anniversary celebration, or something similar.
As this week has shown us, Jay Z is not one to shy away from an opportunity.