Capitalizing on a banner year for Boston teams and increasing interest in the business side of sports, the Business of Sports Club launched its “Spring Training Panel Series” last Thursday to rave reviews. Well over 100 students from HBS and other local schools flocked to see three panels on Finance, Entrepreneurship, and Law/Sports Agents, building a solid foundation for what the Club hopes will join America’s pastime as an annual spring tradition.
Club officials were pleased with the outcome, especially when considering that the idea didn’t even materialize until January. “The vision for this unique and dynamic initiative is to inspire HBS to proactively develop future leaders within the Business of Sports,” remarked Business of Sports Club Co-President John Harper. “From all accounts, the Panel Series today was extremely successful in bringing prominent sports business issues to the forefront of the HBS community.”
The most popular panel was the Entrepreneurship panel, which featured four recent HBS alums and former NFL Pro Bowler Trace Armstrong. Armstrong, whose presence attracted several NFL players from the new Executive Education program (see accompanying article), discussed his experiences with Go Fit, a leading maker of handheld fitness equipment.
The headliner among the alums was Tagg Romney ’98, the freshly promoted VP of League Marketing at Reebok. In addition to having worked for Reebok, Monitor Consulting, and his father’s last gubernatorial campaign, Romney also founded and sold a sports ticketing start-up.
Joining the ranks of HBS entrepreneurs was Dan Burns ’03, an early employee and now the COO of Athletes’ Performance, a training facility for pro athletes which first gained notoriety in 2001 when founder Mark Verstegen was featured in a Sports Illustrated cover story on Nomar Garciaparra. Before HBS, Burns had already carved out a career in sports as the WNBA’s Manager of Business Operations but decided to pursue a new career path after an exciting summer internship with AP.
Since Burns’s arrival, AP has continued to attract star clients such as Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling and NBA All-Star Gilbert Arenas. It has also become one of the leaders in preparing college football players for the NFL Draft.
The other two panelists, former classmates Jessica Gelman ’02 of the New England Patriots and Dan Shanoff ’02 of ESPN, discussed their experiences as entrepreneurs within larger organizations. Gelman, a former Harvard basketball star and one of the first MBAs to break into the NFL ranks, has helped the Patriots launch a variety of exciting new business initiatives.
Shanoff took an even more unconventional career route post-HBS and launched a column idea, “The Daily Quickie,” which he sold to ESPN.
Earlier in the day, students were treated to some of the biggest names in the world of sports finance. The Sports Finance Panel was privileged to have both Robert Caporale and Randy Vataha from GamePlan LLC, a Boston-based sports investment bank that recently teamed with Bain Capital to submit a $3 billion bid for the troubled NHL. Both Caporale and Vataha were part-owners of the USFL’s Boston Breakers franchise, and Vataha enjoyed a professional football career with the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers before becoming an agent who negotiated contracts for well-known clients such as Joe Montana and Larry Bird.
John Moag, Jr., a Baltimore-based sports investment banker and head of the Maryland Stadium Authority who led the successful effort that brought the Ravens franchise to Baltimore, shared several of his experiences on the financings of professional sports teams and facilities. Several NFL teams have constructed new stadiums and there has been significant attention on recent and proposed stadium financings for the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, and other teams. Of particular interest was Moag’s involvement with the Rose Bowl in an effort to bring an NFL franchise back to Los Angeles.
Brad Katcher, a Managing Director of Galatioto Sports Partners, shared many of his experiences working on a variety of debt, equity, advisory and M&A sports clients including the Charlotte Bobcats, Comcast-Spectator, New York Mets, Walt Disney, and the Washington Redskins. He previously worked in both Lehman Brothers’ and SG Cowen’s Sports Advisory and Finance Groups.
The panel closed with a collection of heavy hitters from the legal world, including Alan Milstein, the lead counsel to former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett in his lawsuit against the NFL, and Jack Mula, chief legal counsel of the New England Patriots and former agent to Priest Holmes, Doug Flutie, and Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. The panel was chaired by Joseph Rosen, a sports lawyer in Boston and sports law professor at Boston College Law School, and the discussion centered on such topics as professional athletes and steroids use, amateur athletes leaving school early for the pros, and labor issues among the different pro leagues.
In addition, the audience heard from Dennis Coleman, a partner at the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray and chair of its Sports Law Group. A former star quarterback at Brown University, Coleman discussed his work as the agent to Tony Dungy (Indianapolis Colts’ Head Coach), Al Skinner (Boston College Men’s Basketball Coach), and over 30 other head coaches. Similarly insightful were contributions by Lucinda Treat and Michael Wall, chief legal counsels of the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Burins, respectively. They highlighted their dual business and legal roles in advising team ownership, as well as in managing negotiations with players and other employees.
With spring having only just began, students on campus are looking forward to future high profile panelists coming to campus, and are already anticipating next year’s conference.