Hockey Sports Law

2008 Sports Management Conference Wrap-up

It’s good to be back after a hiatus from writing for the site. The old saying goes that in law school they scare you to death in the first year, work you to death in the second year, and bore you to death in the third year. Consider me officially bored, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean it’s any less busy or stressful! It’s been a crazy few months.

I recently had the opportunity to attend one of the most interesting meetings I’ve ever been a part of. On November 10th and 11th, a sports management conference was held in Toronto at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel. It was hosted by Brian Burke, the new general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Trevor Whiffen, a partner with the Toronto-based law firm Aylesworth LLP. The conference brought together dozens of influential personalities from many different sectors of the sports world.

There were a number of different speakers and panels. The keynote speakers at the luncheons were NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on the first day and Paul Godfrey, the outgoing President of the Toronto Blue Jays on the second day. The panels dealt with a number of diverse issues, from sports in the courts, to the role of the media, to the challenges of running a professional franchise. Speakers came from all over North America and almost every major professional sports league. Although there was a significant hockey slant to the conference (this being Canada after all), there were still many interesting speakers from the other North American pro leagues. Representatives from baseball, football, basketball, and lacrosse were all in attendance.

Two of the more interesting panels for readers of this site were a roundtable featuring representatives from a number of players’ associations and an agents’ roundtable. The players’ association panel featured Paul Kelly, the Executive Director of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA); Billy Hunter, the Executive Director of the National Basketball Association Player’s Association (NBAPA); as well as representatives from the National Football League Players’ Association (NFLPA) and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA). They discussed the upcoming expiration of the collective bargaining agreements in the NBA and NFL, and what the sagging economy means for the negotiations of new agreements.

In keeping with the hockey theme of the conference, four of the five agents during the agents’ roundtable were hockey agents, Don Meehan, Don Baizley, Mike Liut, and Pat Morris. Randy Hendricks, a baseball player agent, was also a member of the panel. One piece of advice that all of the panel members had for potential player agents was to go to law school and practice law first before attempting to become an agent. This is solid advice and is the path that I am following at the moment. They all stated that the life of an agent is not nearly as glamorous as “Entourage” or “Jerry Maguire” would make it seem. It involves a lot of pounding the pavement and a lot of research. Don Meehan stated that if you followed him around for a week, you would likely lose your interest in becoming an agent. I’m not sure that would deter many of our readers!

One of the things that impressed me most about the conference and the panelists was that they took the time to answer questions and were cognizant of the fact that there were a number of younger delegates in the audience, such as myself, who are looking to break into the professional sports world. The panelists and other delegates were available during breaks to talk and answer questions. They were friendly and approachable and were willing to offer whatever advice they had.

All in all, this conference was like a dream for me. I had wanted to attend something like this for a very long time, and it exceeded my every expectation. I joked to some friends afterward that I took more notes and learned more in those two days than I did in my entire time at law school! While this is only partially true, it was an incredible learning experience. I made contacts with people from all over North America and learned skills that will help me in my career going forward.

My personal highlight was getting to meet Brian Burke. He has been one of my idols ever since I started thinking about entering the world of professional sports and it was a thrill to meet him and get to talk to him. To think that I was standing there, talking to Brian Burke about his plans for next season (this was while he was still with the Anaheim Ducks, the day before he stepped down as GM and signed with the Leafs), I still can’t believe it. Attending the conference was truly amazing and made me want to work in professional sports even more. I can’t wait to go back again in the future.

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