Is there now another major player in Boxing? Thus far, Jay Z has been largely successful in pretty much every business venture he's entered. After incorporating Roc Nation Sports, he even went on to sign some of the biggest stars in all of sports, from the NBA's Kevin Durant to the MLB's Robinson Cano, amongst others. His latest move has been to expand Roc Nation Sports into the boxing arena where they'll be playing the part of newcomer promoter. They seem to be off to a decent start already, as they've hired David Itskowitch as the CEO of their boxing division.
For those of you unfamiliar with Itskowitch, he is highly experienced executive with over 18 years in the boxing business. He worked under Lou DiBella at HBO, and followed DiBella into his promoting venture from 2000-2006. In 2007, he started as Chief Operating Officer at Golden Boy until he resigned last summer.
"There's no question the sport of boxing needs a new player, someone who can do something different," Michael Yormark, the president and chief of branding and strategy for parent company Roc Nation, told ESPN.com on Sunday night. "We're energized and we're going to make a difference. This is a huge priority to us. This is a highly serious business to us."
"This is a serious business for us moving forward and Dave has one of the great reputations in the boxing industry," Yormark said, adding that Jay Z and Roc Nation Sports president Juan Perez are big boxing fans. "Hiring him should be a loud and clear statement this is serious for us and that we will do this the right way. We have one of the most respected individuals in the sport leading the charge for us."
"We didn't wake up yesterday and decide we wanted to get into the boxing business, but our first significant move was to bring Dave into the organization. This is an opportunity for us to change the game. It's been in the works for the last six or eight months and now we are making our move. Jay Z has an incredible passion for boxing. We want to take the platform we've created and bring that to the boxing industry. We want to bring more money and visibility to the sport and give the boxers opportunities outside the ring."
What's more is that boxing division has already obtained a promoters license in NY and DC and doesn't plan on wasting any time in getting their feet wet.
"We're going to promote our first event by the end of the year and we're currently strategizing on which fighters we will seek to sign," Itskowitch told ESPN.com.
"We're looking to make an immediate and dramatic impact on the sport. We feel we can do that and we plan to build Roc Nation Sports into a boxing brand by leveraging Roc Nation's current marketing, public relations and branding infrastructure. We're going to brand Roc Nation Sports fighters and we're confident that branding will lead to financial opportunities both in and out of the ring that will be available nowhere else."
"There's no question Roc Nation Sports can create celebrity status for boxers and align them with corporate America," Yormark said. "Look at the success we've had with our athletes and [recording] artists [represented by parent company Roc Nation]. That is what we do, and we do that better than anyone. We will be able to build brands for these boxers and build their careers outside of the ring. That's the difference that Rock Nation will bring to this sport."
Said Itskowitch, "We will be a promoter, but our job won't end once a guy fights on a particular Saturday night. We will promote him 365 days a year."
They've also mentioned that they'll be willing and able to work with any promoter, manager or television network (yeah, that sounds great but...good luck with that!).
"We're starting with a clean slate," he said. "One of boxing's biggest problems is that the audience is getting older, but we have an infrastructure that can reach younger fans. We believe that is something we can do based on what we already have in place."
Its probably a bit too soon to know what to completely make of this. The boxing landscape is already going through a bit of terraforming at the moment with the recent shakeups, and Jay Z throwing his hat into the ring only should only further convolute matters for the time being. Its also difficult to project successful promoting in boxing. No one expected Golden Boy to become the major player it became, and 50 Cent's dive into the business has hit quite a few snags along the way. However, If Jay Z and Roc Nation Sports don't make some kind of impact in boxing it would prove to be one of his very few strikeouts. He isn't known to play for petty stakes so I can only imagine they have some grand schemes in store, along with the financing to back it up. If they in fact have viable strategies to reel in a younger demographic than I say that's great news for the sport.
Now they just need to sign some talent...