Sports management is due for some disruption, says Lucas Keller, CEO of Milk & Honey, which after nearly seven years entrenched in the music industry is stepping up to the plate.
The fast-growing music management firm—which represents songwriters, artists, DJs and producers behind hits for Justin Bieber, Doja Cat, Drake, Selena Gomez, Post Malone and more—is launching a sports division with an initial roster of 15 NFL players and a newly minted Dallas office.
“It was always a vision to launch other verticals once we became a mainstay music company, and today is that day,” Keller says.
The sports division of the newly rebranded Milk & Honey Music + Sports + Ventures will be helmed at the partner level by veteran NFL agent Jacob Presser in New York and former University of Arkansas running back Rawleigh Williams in Dallas. Milk & Honey co-heads of artist management Dave Frank and Alex Harrow are overseeing the sports department, which launches with clients including Courtland Sutton (Denver Broncos), Damien Wilson (Kansas City Chiefs) and Xavier Jones (LA Rams).
Sports management is a highly competitive field dominated by heavy hitters like Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Wasserman and Excel Sports Management. Milk & Honey, which has a current roster of 80-plus and fewer than 30 employees, is bringing the same agile, entrepreneurial game that’s helped the boutique firm ascend to the music industry’s big leagues. Recent signings include J. White Did It, who produced Cardi B’s chart toppers Bodak Yellow and I Like It, and Savage, by Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyonce. Its clients collectively have sold more than 400 million records worldwide.
“As an independent, we’re going to be more tenacious than major companies,” Keller says. “We’re going to be complete bird dogs and get beyond the red tape that a lot of the bigger organizations have to deal with. That’s one of the things I’ve loved about being small.”
Milk & Honey already licenses music in the sports realm—thus far primarily within the NBA—and is involved in two commercials for the upcoming Super Bowl LV.
Keller says he was sold on the numerous other creative synergies his music and sports clients could explore. The company initially is focusing on football, but is eyeing basketball, baseball, hockey, golf and soccer as opportunities arise across its now six global offices (LA, NY, Nashville, Dallas, London and Amsterdam).
MORE FOR YOU
“Everybody’s really excited about it on the artist side,” he says. “There’s a lot of opportunity for our football players and our musicians to create content where there’s a crossover. A company is made more interesting by having multiple pillars in entertainment.”
While endorsements naturally will be a big push, Keller says his team will also help talent build and sustain their own IP. “Old school agents are in the business of endorsements and sponsorships, take 20% commission and move on. This world is more about developing brands.”
“No agents have really gotten behind their players and helped them get intellectual property off the ground. We’ve been able to do it successfully on the music side. Whether it’s apparel, an energy drink, an app… anything we cook up, we’ll go through the process of helping them raise money, helping them concept everything and create businesses,” Keller says.
“The sports agency world is incredibly old school. It’s like I say about country music—it’s a one-lane highway. You write a country record, they put it on country radio, and it sticks or it doesn’t. There is no progressive strategy. In the sports world, there’s really an opportunity for shakeup and we’re excited to be one of the companies that can do that.”
Presser says the firm will be digging in at the university level to identify emerging talent and help them tell their stories as they’re on their way up.
“With social media, there are a lot more outlets for these athletes to show who they are off the field,” Presser says. “You don’t need to be the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys to be a star off the field. Even more so than in music, sports careers, especially in football, are really short. So it would be great to help these guys get some other ancillary income.”
Across the globe, the confluence of music and sports continues to grow louder.
TaP Music, which counts Dua Lipa, Lana Del Rey and Ellie Goulding among clients, in November launched TaP Sports with soccer team Leeds United and its player Kalvin Phillips. Jay-Z-helmed Roc Nation, which formed a sports management division back in 2013, in August partnered with Long Island University to launch the Roc Nation School of Music, Sports & Entertainment.
And tech evolutions continue to open new avenues for all players. For one, Verizon VZ just committed to deploying 5G ultra wideband technology in 28 NFL stadiums by the end of 2021. The move promises to change up the fan experience, including a 5G SuperStadium housed in the NFL app that enables viewers with certain devices to watch select games with up to seven camera angles.