The NFL is forming a partnership with music mogul Jay-Z in a deal that allows him to help manage entertainment ventures tied to league events and is closely connected to the sport’s community activism efforts.
The partnership will make Jay-Z and his Roc Nation agency a co-producer of the Super Bowl halftime show. It does not contain a provision for him to be the halftime performer, he and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said.
“He was very quick to say that he does not want this to be about him performing, that it was broader than that,” Goodell said in an interview. “It quickly went beyond that. Do I hope he’ll perform in the Super Bowl sometime in the next several years? Yes. But I think we’ll all know if that time comes. He’ll know in particular.”
Roc Nation will choose entertainers who will perform in televised NFL promotional spots throughout the season. Jay-Z, whose given name is Shawn Carter, said he believes Roc Nation will have the freedom under the partnership to produce the kind of entertainment that it wants.
“I think we have autonomy,” Carter said in an interview at Roc Nation’s offices in New York. “I anticipate that there will be a lot of — with any big organization, in this building right here we have internal problems. Anything that’s new is going to go through its growing pains. We put what we want to do on the table. The NFL agreed to it. So we’re going to proceed with that as if we have a partnership.”
Financial terms of the partnership, which makes Roc Nation the league’s official live music entertainment strategist, were not available.
The community activism portion of the partnership will be tied to the NFL’s existing “Inspire Change” program with its players.
“It very quickly went beyond the Super Bowl in our early conversations,” Goodell said. “We have an opportunity to make an impact well beyond just the Super Bowl. It could be every other event. It could be every week of our regular season. It could be in ‘Inspire Change’ and how we use platforms to drive positive change in our communities.”
Carter said that “of course” he had some misgivings about partnering with the league at a time when quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began the movement of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police treatment of African Americans, remains unsigned by any team, and amid the recent controversy over Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross hosting a lavish fundraiser for President Trump. But he put such wariness aside, he said, to try to do some good by building on the NFL’s social justice initiatives.
“I think that when you’re discussing these sort of issues, everything is going to be tough,” Carter said. “You can either go home, you can pack your bag and sit in the house, or you can choose to take it head-on. And that’s pretty much how we operate at Roc Nation. We seek to identify things that we want to be a part of and things that we believe that we can add value to, and we step in and we come with these ideas. And to their credit, the NFL agreed to these ideas.
“All these ideas come from this building except for ‘Inspire Change,’ which existed but we built it out. So we know it’ll be difficult. But we think at the end of the day, a lot of people will benefit from the NFL’s platform and the things that we brought to the table. We think it could help a lot of people.”
The NFL began negotiating its social justice program, by which owners and teams contribute funding to community activism initiatives, with a group of its players in the fall of 2017, soon after Trump inflamed a national controversy by saying owners should fire any player who refuses to stand for the anthem.
Few NFL players protested during the anthem last season, and the controversy mostly dissipated after owners abandoned a move to enact a modified anthem policy. But Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills was among those players who protested last season and last week was critical of Ross, who has a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving race relations through sports, for hosting a Trump fundraiser this past Friday.
“I know Stephen and I know Kenny very well,” Goodell said. “I have great admiration for the work they’re doing in communities. It’s about creating that dialogue. That dialogue will help make us better, and that dialogue is happening.”
Carter said the controversy involving Ross and Stills was “not surprising” to him.
“That’s not shocking,” Carter said. “You have 32 billionaire owners. We’re not going to all agree on politics, I’m sure … but we’ve still got to push things forward in life.”
Under the deal, Roc Nation will choose artists to participate in a “Songs of the Season” campaign. Those performances will be featured on televised promos, with the proceeds going to a grant recipient under the “Inspire Change” program. Roc Nation will also help produce a community concert at the Pro Bowl.
Goodell said he traveled to Los Angeles early this year to meet with Carter.
“It really started by saying: How do we bring the best entertainment to the Super Bowl?” Goodell said. “And then it quickly evolved in that first meeting about: How do we use this to have the greatest impact that we possibly can on our communities? And so that evolved to our ‘Inspire Change.’ And then it quickly evolved to beyond the Super Bowl. We have all these events, whether it’s the kickoff [game], whether it’s the draft, whether it’s the Pro Bowl, whether it’s what we do in our stadiums for 17 straight weeks. How do we use that entertainment and that artistry to try to send a message to people?”
The NFL’s TV ratings, traditionally overwhelmingly strong, recovered last season after slumping in the 2017 season, and Goodell said the partnership with Roc Nation could help broaden the sport’s appeal.
“It’s about making our entertainment better,” Goodell said. “It’s about appealing to a broader audience, particularly younger demographics. … In partnering with someone like Jay-Z, we’re able to understand and to be able to find better ways to entertain our fans.”