Jay-Z vs. Super Bowl - Roc Nation & the NFL doing big business around social justice
by Katherine Rosman -
This story appeared in the New York Times on Feb. 2, 2020.
A few years ago, the National Football League approached Jay-Z about performing at the Super Bowl halftime show. To perform “Run This Town,” he was asked if he would bring Rihanna and Kanye West, who appear on the track, along with him.
“Of course I would have,” Jay-Z said, “but I said, ‘No, you get me.’ That is not how you go about it, telling someone that they’re going to do the halftime show contingent on who they bring. I said forget it. It was a principle thing.”
Then, last year, the Super Bowl was in Atlanta, a global center of hip-hop — and the N.F.L. booked the pop rock band Maroon 5 as the headliner.
It certainly looked like the N.F.L. needed help. Robert K. Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots and the powerful chairman of the N.F. L.’s media committee, reached out to Jay-Z to discuss.
“The problem with the N.F.L. is you all think hip-hop is still a fad when hip-hop has been the dominant music form around the world for 20 years,” Jay-Z said to him.
And it came off, at best, as ignorance from a league of 32 teams, only two of which are owned by people of color, employing 28 white head coaches, and an athletic labor force that is more than 70 percent black.
Mr. Kraft was convinced, and persuaded the N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell, to meet with him and Jay-Z in Los Angeles.
The outcome: a partnership between the N.F.L. and Roc Nation, Jay-Z’s sprawling company, that gives Jay-Z influence over the league’s most important music events, including the halftime show.
This makes it the season of Roc Nation. Last weekend, the Grammys were hosted by Alicia Keys, a Roc Nation client. Roc Nation’s annual Grammys brunch brought together its artists and clients like Rihanna and DJ Khaled with Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
This weekend’s far-more-consequential marquee event, the Super Bowl LIV halftime show at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., will star Shakira, a Roc Nation client, along with Jennifer Lopez.
The deal also gives Jay-Z, 50, a hand in “Inspire Change,” the N.F.L.’s new initiative concerning “education and economic advancement, police and community relations, and criminal justice reform,” according to the N.F.L.’s promotional materials. Roc Nation has asked Mr. Goodell to commit the league to spending $100 million over the next 10 years on social justice outreach and causes.
“Roger is amazing and we couldn’t be doing this without him,” said Desiree Perez, the chief executive of Roc Nation. “He has been so supportive of us and is critical to us making change at the N.F.L.” (Mr. Goodell was not available for an interview, and a spokeswoman for the N.F.L. declined to be quoted for this article.)
This Super Bowl, amid the world’s most expensive advertising, the N.F.L. will sponsor the broadcast of a public service video, one of a series that tells the stories of black men and boys killed by police.
When this partnership was announced, it was received by some as a betrayal of Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers who first declined to stand during the national anthem in 2016 as a protest against social injustice, especially the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police. He left the team at the end of the season and hasn’t been hired by an N.F.L. team since. (Mr. Kaepernick’s lawyer declined to answer questions.)