A Hard-knock life for Roc Nation Sports
With great fanfare and hoopla it was announced over the summer that Roc Nation Sports would dive into the shark-infested waters of the boxing business as a promoter. They enlisted Dave Itskowitch as its COO and made an immediate splash by coming out of nowhere to win the purse bid of nearly $2 million for the WBO middleweight title fight between Peter Quillin and Matt Korobov.
With Jay Z’s social resonance, it was believed this firm would not only sign marquee blue-chip boxers who grew up listening to his iconic albums but be a driving force in attracting a younger, more “urban” audience.
But thus far, all this company really has is 99 problems (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
In what was soon to be a trend, Quillin, the defending beltholder, turned down a payday of $1.4 million to face Korobov at the behest of adviser Al Haymon, who had other plans for his vast stable. This became a common theme as other boxers under his guidance, Deontay Wilder, Keith Thurman and Adrien Broner (who probably had the strongest rebuke of Roc Nation and Rihanna – something that he later apologized for) all rejected multi-million dollar overtures from the company.
Yeah, they literally couldn’t give their money away.
It’s no secret that Jay Z and his wife, Beyonce, who once sued Haymon, have a certain animosity toward him. With that, Roc Nation Sports – which has made significant inroads in other sports as a management group, representing Kevin Durant and Robinson Cano – had its sights on raiding his roster. Thus far, however, his group of fighters has pledged its undying loyalty to the man who seemingly has his own sights on monopolizing the sport one time-buy at a time.
Beyond Haymon’s roster, sources say Roc Nation Sports had a series of meetings with Miguel Cotto, who is a free agent despite his working relationship with Top Rank Promotions. More troubling is they seem to have no problems – as they say in the boxing business – “buzzing” fighters who are under existing promotional contracts. Banner Promotions and Star Boxing, which co-promote Demetrius Andrade, was all set to face Jermall Charlo on Dec. 13 on Showtime till Roc Nation whispered in his ear. Soon, Andrade was off that card and hasn’t fought since. Other promoters have also complained about Roc Nation contacting their boxers.
Then there was the short-lived relationship with veteran promoter Gary Shaw, who was brought aboard, bringing his experience and fighters along to give Roc Nation Sports a certain foundation from which to build upon. Well, there have been Britney Spears marriages that lasted longer this union as Shaw officially split from the company earlier this week. Many observers believed this was bound to happen. Bottom line: Shaw is used to being a chief, not an Indian and with the likes of Itskowitch and Michael Yormark, there was bound to be a battle of egos, not to mention discrepancies in vision and a clash of personalities.
You could describe this situation as dysfunctional.
Recently, Ron Scott Stevens, who was brought aboard to be their matchmaker quit weeks into his job and consultant Jeff Fried – who ironically recruited Shaw to his post – had his contract terminated. It’s not clear if this is a housecleaning or the evacuating of the Titanic after the iceberg struck.
With Shaw taking his boxers back to Gary Shaw Productions, the Roc Nation Sports roster of boxers is basically Andre Ward (more on him later), Dusty Hernandez Harrison, Dustin Fleischer and a few Chinese boxers brought aboard by Dino Duva. Roc Nation Sports is finding out that it’s not nearly as easy to attract the stars in boxing as it is in the NFL or NBA. It takes more than just deep pockets to make it work in this racket and, early on, it’s been a harsh dose of reality for Hova’s crew.
Speaking of Ward, word is he received a multi-million-dollar signing bonus to come over and a contract with seven-figure guaranteed minimums. It was thought he would be Roc Nation’s franchise fighter, who could command dates on premium cable networks and allow other boxers to develop on his undercards. Problem is as he keeps insisting on tune-up fights that would pay him lucrative amounts, HBO has made it clear that ,for the time being, that wasn’t in their plans. Ward and his representatives reached out to Showtime only to find lukewarm interest in his services.
Somewhere up there, Dan Goossen must be chuckling.
Roc Nation has staged one card, which took place at the Theater in Madison Square Garden on Jan. 9 with much hype and a plethora of hip-hop figures in attendance. While there was an energetic crowd of over 4,000, only a fraction of the tickets were actually sold. The rest were purchased by the company and given away. This card, which was televised on FOX Sports 1 and featured Tureano Johnson (a Shaw fighter) and Harrison, drew a scant television audience. This card lost upwards of a half-million dollars, according to sources.
It’s not clear when their next show will take place; there was talk of a mid-March show back at the same venue. But what’s more problematic – and perhaps everyone else in this business – is the lack of platforms available to them. It’s said they have a few FOX Sports 1 dates and that’s about it for now.
So in what direction does Roc Nation go? Do they retool or adjust their short-term goals to be more of a local promoter that focuses in on young, fledgling talent to build from the bottom up? Or are they already thinking of an exit plan? An email to Itskowitch asking for a comment was not returned (by the way, Roc Nation Sports has a policy that states in order to speak to Itskowitch, you have to contact their spokesman, Ron Berkowitz, who then has to listen in on the conversation. Geez, all that to ask someone when their next card is taking place? You don’t have to jump through nearly as many hoops – or any – to grab Bob Arum, Don King, Kathy Duva, Todd duBoef, Lou DiBella, Artie Pelullo, Tom Brown, Yvon Michel or basically anyone else in these positions).
In regard to new promotional entities that popped up with big dreams and even bigger checkbooks, promising to change the business and landscape of boxing, Arum once said (as only he could), “The desert is strewn with bleached bones.”
Breaking into the insular world of boxing is very difficult, if not impossible. It doesn’t take kindly to outsiders possibly taking a cut of the action or altering a paradigm that has been very good to those firmly entrenched in the business. While Jay Z is a titan in the music business, on Bash Blvd., he’s looked upon as another easy mark with impossible dreams and some money to blow. His platinum albums don’t mean much; here, ask 50 Cent.
It’s too early to count Roc Nation Sports out; after all, they are just starting out in this venture. It’s a powerful entity but its clear that they have learned something. A veteran promoter, who found their early troubles not-so-surprising, stated, “These guys all come in and think it’s so easy. That all you need is a lot of money and maybe a big name to front it. I wish it was that simple.”
HBO’s statement regarding Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao, ”We stand ready to go,” is basically code for, “Hey, Floyd; stop blaming us. We’re not holding up this fight,’…Nicholas Walters must have one helluva flu bug to have him pulling out of a fight that is seven weeks away…So will Andy Lee end up facing Peter Quillin after all? According to Lou DiBella, we’ll find out in the next day or two who will try to satisfy the likes of WBO mandatory challenger Billy Joe Saunders and his promoter Frank Warren…Still stunned by the end of the Super Bowl. The play-call by the Seahawks is literally the worst I have ever seen in that situation…But that shouldn’t overshadow the brilliance of Tom Brady in that fourth quarter. When the chips were really down, he came up huge like an all-time great is expected to…Hey, when does “Bar Rescue” return? I miss Jon Taffer…I can’t lie; Fox’s “Empire” isn’t a guilty pleasure of mine – I have no guilt in enjoying that show…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at http://twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at http://instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at www.tsu.co/steveucnlive.