The 2012 sports business summer conference season is upon us, and it officially kicks off this week at the Hilton Bayfront in San Diego with one of the best – the annual Sports Lawyers Association (SLA) Conference. The SLA brings together attorneys from all facets of the sports business, and holds an impressive roster of members that includes professional sport general managers, team and league counsel, athletic directors, sports and entertainment agents, as well as some of the top sports law and business educators.
The SLA prides itself on having a superb member turnout at its annual conference, providing for educational and networking opportunities that is unmatched by similar events. Unlike other sports business conferences, membership into SLA is in-of-itself pre-filtered by the very nature of the association (attorneys only). As such, the general quality of the attendees goes up, and subsequently the level of discussion rises accordingly.
The conference is broken down into a mix of panel discussions focused on personal and industry development, as well as a series of breakout sessions led by sector leaders. There are also plenty of opportunities for attorneys to mingle, with various networking breaks and lunch/dinner receptions throughout the conference. I have outlined some of the more interesting panels below:
College Conferences and Their Own Networks: Will College Sports Be Changed Forever?
Moderator: Stephanie J. Vardavas, Founder & Principal, Irenic, LLC
- Karen Brodkin, Executive Vice President, FOX Cable Networks, LLC
- Woodie Dixon, General Counsel and Vice President of Business Affairs, Pac-12 Conference
- Kevin Sweeney, Shareholder, Polsinelli Shughart
One of the biggest issues in college athletics over the last two years has been the constantly changing conference landscape as schools shuffle for position in an attempt to gain entry into an “Automatic Bid” conference. Much of this movement has been fueled by the prospects of increased revenue form television rights as conferences and even individual schools start their own networks. The Pac-12 and its new network will be represented by Conference VP Woodie Dixon, who should provide insight into the league’s new television and business development strategies.
Town Hall Debate – Collective Bargaining: Winners and Losers
Moderator: Wm. David Cornwell, Sr., DNK Cornwell, LLC
- Stephen F. Ross, Professor, The Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson School of Law
- Ron Klempner, Deputy General Counsel, NBPA
2011 will forever be known as the “Year of the Lockout”, as both the NFL and more significantly the NBA went through major Collective Bargaining changes with their respective Players Associations. Last summer’s SLA conference was dominated by lockout discussion, and now that a year has passed, attorneys from both sides of the battle will gather to determine just who came out on top.
The Olympic Games as a Showcase – Anticipated Issues
Moderator: Maidie E. Oliveau, Counsel, Arent Fox LLP
- Gary L. Johansen, Associate General Counsel, United States Olympic Committee
- Sonja S. Keating, General Counsel and Senior Vice President, United States Equestrian Federation, Inc.
- Christopher McCleary, Associate General Counsel, Global Brand and Client Management, Visa Inc.
- Leah B. Tuffanelli, Senior Advisor Business Affairs, MATCH Services AG
The largest sporting event in the world, the 2012 Olympic Games, is less than two months away. USOC general counsel Gary Johansen headlines a panel that will explore the myriad of complicated issues that face both the Olympic Committee, as well as the hundreds of athletes, sponsors, service providers and tourists that will descend upon London this summer. Of particular interest are the legal ramifications surrounding sponsor brand activation and ambush marketing, as well as social media and the role of the Court of Arbitration for Sports ad hoc Division in any disputes that may arise.
Hot Topics in NCAA Legal Issues: Agents and Amateurism
Moderator: Robert H. Ruxin, President, Kazmaier Associates, Inc., Lexington, MA
- Darren A. Heitner, Founder/CEO, Dynasty
- Donald M. Remy, General Counsel and Vice President of Legal Affairs
- Warren K. Zola, Assistant Dean, Graduate Programs, Carroll School of Management, Boston College
Next to conference realignment, the topic of Agents and Amateurism is one of the most talked about issues in collegiate athletics. Should student-athletes be paid? Do they own their own likeness? How are athletic departments protecting their student athletes from unscrupulous agents and runners looking to make a quick dollar? NCAA general counsel Donald M. Remy headlines a panel that includes some of the top experts in the business of athletic amateurism, including An Athletes Guide to Agents author Robert H. Ruxin as well as sports business and law professors Darren A. Heitner and Warren K. Zola.
Executive Directors’ Forum (invited speakers)
Moderator: Richard A. Berthelsen, General Counsel, NFLPA
- Donald M. Fehr, Executive Director, NHLPA
- William “Billy” Hunter, Executive Director, NBPA
- Domonique Foxworth, President, NFLPA
- Michael Weiner, Executive Director and General Counsel, MLBPA
Counsels’ Forum (invited speakers)
Moderator: Dennis Curran, Senior Vice President / Labor Litigation and Policy, NFL
- Daniel S. Rube, Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, NBA
- William Daly, Deputy Commissioner, NHL
- Gary Gertzog, Senior Vice President-Business Affairs and General Counsel, NFL
- Thomas J. Ostertag, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, MLB
The SLA conference is concluded on Saturday with two all-star panels, the (Players Association) Executive Directors’ Forum and the (League) Counsel’s Forum. The main figures in the legal battles that face the players and the leagues will discuss last year’s labor dispute as well as forthcoming litigation. Of particular interest is whether NBPA head Billy Hunter shows up now that he is under heat from the players and media about potential unethical practices concerning players association funds. Also of significant interest is NFL General Counsel Gary Gertzog’s insight into the pending concussion lawsuits, which many believe could be the biggest financial threat to the league in its history. This will be made all the more interesting by the recent death of San Diego great, Junior Seau, who many believe committed suicide due to concussion related cognitive complications.
The 2012 Sports Lawyers Association Conference promises to be another fantastic event, and I will be back next week with a comprehensive recap for those who are unable to attend!