Jay-Z, the Nets and the New Face of Celebrity Branding

A fascinating story in The New York Times today considers a strangely uneven relationship: Despite the fact that rapper, producer and super-mogul Sean “Jay-Z” Carter owns only a fraction of a percent of the NBA’s Brooklyn-bound Nets franchise, his heavy hand is visible in nearly every corner of their re-branding project.

Not only is Jay-Z headlining opening week at Brooklyn’s monster Barclays Center venue, aka the Nets’ new home field; he also helped design the team’s logos and advised their PR squad on everything from music selections (more indie, “less Jersey”) to security practices (“be sensitive” when checking attendees for weapons).

Given the fact that Carter and wife Beyoncé are two of the best-known pop stars in the world, we can understand why the Nets would trust him to guide them toward the (highly profitable) light. We don’t think too many celebrities could demand this degree of control over such a big-name project–Russian oil man and former presidential candidate Mikhail D. Prokhorov owns the lion’s share of the team, but only big-time news junkies know who he is.

Bruce Ratner, Barclays developer and super-villain to Park Slope moms, put it simply: “He is us. He is how people are going to see that place.” And Hova is hardly getting the short end of this stick: The center will include both a Rocawear store and a branch of his signature 40/40 Club. He even has a major stake in the team’s ad agency.

Is the Jay-Z/Nets relationship a new model for celebrity branding projects in the age of social networking? Will his name be enough to raise the public profile of a struggling team? Ratner claims that he was wary of Carter’s personal brand at first glance, but the rapper’s presence clearly helped sway skeptical locals. (If you want a few chuckles, check out columnist Phil Mushnick’s “Is It Racist?” response to this story, which attracted a lot of media attention when it ran back in May. Keep it classy, New York Post!)

This is all pretty interesting, but we live in Brooklyn and we can’t quite handle the fact that our town has a real-life professional basketball team now. We still haven’t gotten over the Dodgers moving to LA. It’s kinda weird.