Jay-Z has teamed with Puma, the shoe and apparel company, creating a powerful alliance of big-name brands, signaling Puma’s return to the basketball world and possibly putting the hip-hop mogul in a precarious position of competing loyalties and, at least for some, the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Jay-Z has dabbled as a basketball owner and, for the past five years, has presided over a sports agency business, Roc Nation Sports. He represents athletes from all walks, but it’s the basketball side of his business that could potentially create problems in his new position with Puma — depending on what that position actually entails.
Initial reports indicated that Jay-Z would serve as president of Puma’s basketball division, though the German-based sneaker company later walked that back and said his actual title will be creative director for Puma basketball. The company, which is expected to formally announce Jay-Z’s new role Tuesday afternoon, considers the rap mogul’s position to be creative in nature, a distinction that is likely not accidental.
“In this capacity he will be overseeing creative strategy, creative marketing, and product design,” Puma spokesman Adam Petrick told The Post in an email. “Since 1973 the sport of basketball has transcended the court and Puma basketball will blend the influences of performance, fashion, music and culture. Jay-Z is the perfect partner to help us reenter the category.”
The news immediately created waves in the sports agent realm, with many wondering whether Jay-Z will have trouble wearing two hats and asking what kind of potential conflicts he’ll have to navigate serving dual roles.
Myriad rules govern the conduct of basketball agents. While Jay-Z was certified with the National Basketball Players Association in the past, he’s not listed in a current directory and is no longer certified. He is, however, still the head of Roc Nation, and has certified agents working under him, such as Joe Branch, Sam Permut and Juan Perez, the president of Roc Nation.
The union’s agent regulations do not govern non-agents such as Jay-Z, but the players association does maintain regulatory authority over all of Roc Nation’s certified agents who work under Jay-Z. The players’ union declined a request for comment.
And some wondered this week whether Puma’s new hire could create obstacles for Roc Nation. Basketball agents are not allowed to have “a financial interest in any professional basketball team or in any other business venture that would create an actual conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
In other words, representing two businesses could be problematic. Can Jay-Z’s company reasonably represent clients who are negotiating with other shoe companies? Can he talk business with players who are represented by other agents while trying to lure them to Puma? Can he help recruit new clients without the implied additional benefit of a potential Puma relationship?
“Really the question is, is Jay-Z, as the owner of a sports agency who receives at least a portion of the commissions generated by the agents working for him, also then bound to be a fiduciary for the clients his company represents and . . . is there now a perceived or actual conflict as he and his company are supposed to put his clients’ best interests above his own?” said Darren Heitner, a sports attorney and player agent. “If he’s receiving money from Roc Nation’s sports clients and concurrently from a shoe and apparel company — maybe even double-dipping in certain instances — I think that could be a concern.”
Petrick, Puma’s global director of brand and marketing, initially told Complex on Monday that Jay-Z would play a role in recruiting players to Puma, though he later said he was mistaken and Jay-Z’s formal duties, at least on paper, apparently will be focused more on design and branding. If that’s the extent of his duties, Jay-Z’s work for Puma might not raise many eyebrows.
“We’ve been working with Roc Nation for quite some time,” Petrick told Complex. “They’ve been great partners to us for several years. We’ve done many different deals with many different ambassadors.”
Terms and details of Jay-Z’s new role with Puma still aren’t entirely clear and will likely dictate just how complicated the basketball landscape will be for him to navigate.
“I think some interesting questions are still out there,” Heitner said. “Does Jay-Z have any role in the representation of players or is he completely hands-off? And secondly, what is his real role with Puma and is there a compensation element attached to it?”
Puma hasn’t had a big-name basketball player since signing Vince Carter two decades ago, and largely sat out the most recent iteration of the ongoing sneaker wars, led by Nike and Adidas. In addition to Jay-Z, the company has also signed Arizona’s Deandre Ayton, the likely No. 1 pick in this week’s NBA draft, plus likely first-rounders Marvin Bagley III of Duke and Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith. Of the three, only Smith is represented by Roc Nation.
WNBA star Skylar Diggins, also represented by Roc Nation, signed a long-term deal with Puma last year, long before the company jumped headfirst back into the basketball waters. (The @TwitterMoments account circulated a tweet Monday evening, congratulating Bagley and Ayton on becoming the first members of Puma’s basketball family. It was later deleted but not before Diggins retweeted it, saying, “Wrong! But welcome to the family!”)
Puma’s biggest name globally remains Usain Bolt, the retired track star, though golfer Rickie Fowler is among the most visible, sporting brightly colored gear on courses every week. Puma also announced this week a lifetime deal with basketball Hall of Famer Walt “Clyde” Frazier. Coupled with this week’s draft, the company didn’t exactly mince words in announcing its return to the basketball space.
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