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Sports Law Symposium featured top agents and industry leaders

Published: January 26th, 2009

Category: News

The founder of ESPN and the former White House communications director spoke at the UF Law School on Friday – and that was just two of about 15 speakers and panelists the day featured.

Prominent figures in the sports law and business world gathered for the 2009 UF Sports Law Symposium, put on by UF Law’s Entertainment and Sports Law Society. Last year, the law school participated in a sports symposium on the main campus.

“This year we decided to take it from the Reitz Union and bring more of a law aspect to the symposium,” said Darren Heitner, president of the Entertainment and Sports Law Society. “I’m very happy with how it went. We had amazing speakers, and I hope to be a part of it next year.”

Kevin Sullivan, who served as assistant to the president for communications from July 11, 2006 until President Barack Obama took office, kicked off the event with the keynote speech. Prior to that, he worked in communications for NBC Sports and the Dallas Mavericks.

He told the unlikely story of how he went from the Mavericks to the White House. One day he was riding a train into New York when he got an e-mail from an old acquaintance in Dallas on his Blackberry.

“He sends me this e-mail, ‘Would you be interested in a senior communications position with the administration in Washington?’ I e-mailed him back, ‘You mean the Wizards?’ Because there was no way I was qualified for anything beyond that in Washington, D.C.”

Sullivan said he had no desire to take the position, but he ended up being talked into a position with the Department of Education. Thirteen months later, he interviewed with George W. Bush for the job in the White House. He used this example to tell the audience to always be willing to take risks.

“You can’t always plot out every move for the rest of your life,” Sullivan said.

The next panel was on job recruiting in the sports law field. The experts all stressed how tough it is to crack into the sports agent business. They stressed having a backup plan.

“Don’t expect it to feed you right away unless you are a roommate of someone who is going to hire you,” said Joshua Golka, a Sacramento-based sports attorney.

“I don’t think I’d say don’t do it if that’s something you want to do, but have another plan too. It’s a really tough business to get into and to stay in, especially with some of the regulations that are coming out from some of the players’ associations.”

The next panel was on negotiation. The speakers were an agent, a stadium-naming negotiator and a lawyer for the ATP (men’s tennis tour). They stressed being prepared for a negotiation session and knowing when to walk away from a deal.

Glenn Toby, an agent for the NFL’s Asante Samuel, other NFL players, and hip-hop artists, stressed believing in your client.

“There’s a sign in the back on the wall and it says ‘DO GOOD,’” Toby said. “When you’re doing good, you’re saying good, your client’s playing good. Sometimes people get off course, but if you’re doing what’s right, there’s always that measure. If you’re selling something good, it’s going to have value somewhere. Even if the negotiations go against you, somebody is going to want that client.”

The labor panel talked about collusion in sports and also about the possibility of baseball getting a salary cap.

Marc Edelman, a sports law professor that has practiced sports litigation, said the Major League Baseball Players’ Association will never allow a salary cap.

One audience member asked if the New York Yankees won six World Series in a row, would the MLB Players’ Association change their minds about a salary cap.

Michael McCann, a sports law professor, Sports Illustrated legal analyst, and sports litigator, said this could push public opinion into forcing a salary cap.

“There did seem to be something wrong. This idea that, ‘Why are the Yankees signing everyone [this offseason]?’” said McCann, an admitted Boston Red Sox fan.

“Who are they even competing against signing these guys? Were they bargaining against themselves for some of these players? Because it wasn’t clear that there were other suitable teams that would pay anywhere near what the Yankees ultimately paid.”

But Golka said that might not help the argument for a salary cap.

“People like an evil empire to root against,” Golka said. “They like dynasties like the 49ers and the Cowboys in their eras – they are both for them and against them.”

The final panelists spoke about the future of sports business. They focused largely on how the Internet and technology is changing the sports landscape.

Finally, Bill Rasmussen, who founded ESPN in 1979, gave the closing speech. Rasmussen told the story how he started ESPN from scratch.

When Rasmussen asked his father for funding for ESPN, his dad shot back, “If everybody in the world is going to love it, why don’t you borrow money from them?” Even after the network launched, there were still troubles. TV Guide would not list the network, telling Rasmussen that “TV networks always have three letters.”

Rasmussen stressed a positive attitude in life to achieve one’s goals.

“Whatever you’re doing, in whichever direction you’re planning to head, do it with passion, do it with energy, and do it with an unwavering positive attitude because negative attitudes don’t get us anywhere,” he said.

“I’ve talked about depressions, recessions and business cycles all through my life, and over the long view, we are a great country and we can all be very, very successful.”




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