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Volume 21 No. 34

Opinion

As we look at the key issues in sports law, I asked various legal minds who work across the sports industry the simple question: Give skill sets, attributes or advice for anyone considering a career in sports law. Answers were edited for clarity and brevity:

 

Jeff Gewirtz, BSE Global

Brooklyn Law School, 1994

Become the very best legal practitioner you can be. The better your work product and work ethic, the more likely you will be brought into complex sports industry matters that overlap with your specialty.

 

Bob Foose, MLS Players Association

Georgetown University School of Law, 1994

A love of sports is not a reason to pursue a career in sports. You need to have a passion for the business of sports. Develop the broadest skill set possible to maximize your value/opportunities. Relationships are crucial. Take them seriously; work hard to develop and nurture them. Be loyal. Athletes are the core of sports. The better you understand them, the more successful you will be.

 

Nona Lee, Arizona Diamondbacks

Oklahoma City University School of Law, 1995

Become the best legal practitioner you can be; excellent legal skills translate to any industry. Think outside the box in terms of opportunities in sports; don’t focus so narrowly that you miss great opportunities that could lead you to your ultimate goal. Network, network, network — but do so thoughtfully, respectfully and authentically. Your reputation is everything.

 

Joe Pierce, Hornets Sports & Entertainment

University of Pennsylvania, 1998

Networking is valuable, but don’t forget the WORK part. Develop your communication, negotiating and critical reasoning skills. If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. Identify a career plan, but make it flexible to adjust to future opportunities. Genuine relationships compound like interest.

 

Chuck Baker, O’Melveny & Myers

Cornell Law School, 1985

Be kind, courteous and compassionate to everyone you meet, as you’ll meet the same people on the way up as on the way back down. Also, work harder than everyone else, be curious and read everything you can as the learning curve in sports is a steep one. Warren Buffett said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” As vast as the sports industry is, we all know each other personally or by reputation.

 

Megha Parekh, Jacksonville Jaguars

Harvard Law School, 2009

Write about an aspect of sports law or current event. Publishing will showcase your skills before you get your first job in sports.

 

Peter White, DLA Piper

St. John’s University School of Law, 1984

Become highly skilled in your substantive area of the law. Show gratitude for the privilege of working in the sports industry. Be humble. The focus should be on the client; never about yourself. Remember that lawyers are reported on the expense side of the ledger. Make friends, not enemies. The sports business is small.

 

Doug Gibson, Covington & Burling

Harvard Law School, 1990

Build a strong résumé and network. Opportunities are limited and competition is fierce. Consider a few years of training at a firm with a strong sports practice. Sports law encompasses a wide range of practice areas. Determine the areas that interest you, and this will inform the opportunities you should pursue.

 

Irwin Kishner, Herrick, Feinstein

Boston University School of Law, 1987

Your work product is your calling card, and it must be superb. You must strive to be an exceptional and tenacious lawyer — the first to arrive and the last to leave every day. Approach your job the same way an athlete or general counsel does, by passionately pursuing excellence at every turn.

 

John Keenan, AEG

Georgetown University Law Center, 1995

Be an active, all-pro listener; exercise reasoned choices; communicate clearly and effectively (say something because it needs to be said, not to show how smart you are). Seek mentors constantly — preferably smart and forgiving ones. Clear the way for others. Thankless service is the job. Forget credit — it doesn’t serve the larger goal, only your ego.

Abraham Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

We are at a crossroads. Baseball fans are aging and many of them still want the tried and true traditional game experience. However, younger fans want something completely different: unique, flexible, and highly social experiences. Most current season ticket products offer none of these. This tech-obsessed and often frenetic generation is rapidly growing in size and spending power. The traditional season ticket — a pillar of sports business for decades — doesn’t resonate with them. So how do we attract and retain the next generation of fans for years to come? 

To proactively address this changing environment we need a product offering that is flexible enough to attract younger fans, without neglecting more traditional ones. Some MLB clubs have introduced ultra-cheap subscription pass products in an attempt to attract younger fans, but at a price point of $100-$200 per season, these are not a viable revenue alternative to season tickets. Higher value, access-based membership models have proved successful for gyms, country clubs, museums and social clubs, and I believe they will work for sports.

Traditional season tickets are inflexible and often require purchasing more games than many younger fans want to attend, making them difficult to sell to consumers. This challenge is compounded when key benefits of membership — like club access and high-end in-game amenities — are provided to anyone who purchases the associated ticket on the secondary market, thus diminishing the value proposition of membership altogether. How many people would buy a country club membership if single-day passes were available on StubHub?

We are exploring a new ticketing model we’re calling A’s Access. This model bundles general admission access to every home game with a partial-season reserved seat plan and benefits that are exclusive to the members themselves.

Fan Preferences in Today’s World

A survey of A’s fans supported and informed our assertions that the traditional season ticket model is not catering to current fan preferences.

 

Finding 1: An MLB full-season ticket plan includes more games (81) than most fans are able to attend.

Only 18% of A’s season ticket members have the full-season ticket plan.

Among season ticket members who selected the full-season ticket plan, 25% indicate the number of games included in the plan is too many.

 

Finding 2: Traditional season ticket plans are not flexible enough to best serve fan preferences.

54% of A’s season ticket members indicated that they attend fewer games than the number of games included in their plan, a rate that rises to 80% for the two plans involving the highest number of games.

 

Finding 3: Many younger fans do not prefer the traditional consistent location, seat-centric experience when attending games.

Among A’s fans ages 35 and younger who have opted to purchase single-game tickets rather than a season ticket package, 49% indicate they prefer a mix of seat locations across the games they attend.

 

Finding 4: Younger fans are more attracted to and enjoy more social settings at the ballpark, such as field-view bars.

A’s fans age 35 and younger are far more likely to have visited the new field-view Treehouse bar space than fans over the age of 36. 

— OAKLAND ATHLETICS

The foundation of this model is a general admission experience that is anything but “general.” This new “flex experience” would be more social, flexible, and potentially more valuable than a typical reserved seat. The next-generation ballpark should be designed with a significant portion of the game-view real estate dedicated to flex experiences: party decks, lounge seating, lawns, bars, family areas, restaurants, and other more innovative concepts. Fans could enjoy several unique experiences each game.

In addition to admission to every regular-season game, Access members would receive the following benefits: 

Exclusive spaces: Traditional clubs and the most desirable
flexible spaces would be limited to Access members. 

Member pricing: Fan-friendly pricing on all in-venue purchases.

Guest privileges and companion members: Ability to bring guests into both games and exclusive members areas, as well as purchase companion memberships for share partners.

Seat upgrades: Free upgrades for games not included in the member’s seat plan, based on availability.

Year-round benefits: Facilities like fitness centers, locker rooms, meeting spaces, bars or restaurants for members.

Access members would have the ability to sell the tickets in their seat plan, but secondary purchasers would not receive any of these member benefits. With the exception of premium-priced corporate memberships, all benefits would be exclusive to the individual member.  

This new approach to membership also provides meaningful business advantages for the club:

Membership growth: More fans will forge direct relationships with the team because a viable membership substitute would not be available in secondary marketplaces. 

Price optimization: By offering transferable benefits exclusively to corporate members, clubs can charge a premium for enhanced flexibility to corporate buyers while keeping prices more accessible for fans.

Inventory expansion: By selling memberships based primarily on access to every game, the team has the ability to sell significantly more memberships. Just like a gym, only a portion of the Access Members will come to each game. Capacity concerns on high-demand games can be handled through a simple, priority-based reservation system.

Our industry continues to roll out the same products year after year, prioritizing seat-centric experiences in seat-centric venues. Yet, capturing the next generation of fans depends on our ability to offer something fundamentally different. Fan preferences and consumption trends are changing. It’s time for a new ticketing model. It’s time to adapt.

Chris Giles is chief operating officer of the Oakland Athletics.