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The socially conscious
business of
ROC NATION

Illustrations by Jessica Landon

Having elevated Marcus Rashford to national treasure status in
just 12 short — okay, long — months, Jay-Z’s management company is
looking to repeat the trick with more superstar activists. Susannah Butter
peeks inside a personal branding powerhouse that’s changing
the off-the-pitch role of sporting heroes as we know it

‘A new chapter, let’s go,’ rugby player Maro Itoje wrote on his Instagram page. The England star was announcing that he had just signed to Roc Nation, American rapper Jay-Z’s management company, in November. Talented, eloquent and politically engaged, the 26-year-old Itoje is a perfect fit; Jay-Z’s juggernaut agency also represents footballer Marcus Rashford. Since Roc Nation expanded into European sport six years ago it has steadily been disrupting the way sports stars are seen and the impact they create.

Last week, Itoje lived up to the nickname he has among rugby fans — Super Maro — by launching a campaign urging the UK Government to give free laptops to the 1.78 million children who currently cannot take part in online lessons because they lack adequate computers at home.

Itoje, who went to Harrow School on a rugby scholarship, is supported in his activism by Roc Nation Sports International, a sub-division of Jay-Z’s agency, just like Rashford (inset) during his free school meals campaign. Since the start of the pandemic, the 23-year-old Manchester United forward has consistently put pressure on the Government to extend and improve free school meals for children who need them, sharing his own back story (he grew up in poverty, his single mother going without food so her five children could eat.

Jay-Z

“celebrities expect more from agents than just money and opportunities — they want social capital”

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Marcus Rashford

“We look for people who are a good fit: athletes looking to join a family and to give back”

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Maro Itoje

“They see behaviour like that as part of
the overall brand of the individual. They see that it makes the star infinitely more marketable, more human and therefore more lucrative”

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