LA Sparks Owner and NFL Agent Talk Sports Law
University of North Dakota
Sports law: You may know about it or interact with it more than you think. Every time you buy a hot dog at a stadium, get an autograph from a pro athlete, or even watch a Powerade commercial, you’re involved in aspects of sports law.
To showcase the topic, North Dakota Law Review chose sports law as the theme for its annual Law School Symposium. Held on Friday, April 8, this year, the discussions ranged from intellectual property, steroids and sports facilities to issues with owners and agents, as well as Native American nicknames in sports – a widely debated topic in this neck of the woods.
One of the biggest names at the symposium this year was California lawyer and LA Sparks co-owner Carla Christofferson. A North Dakota native and 1989 UND graduate, Carla has come back to campus on numerous occasions, earning a Young Alumni Achievement Award in 2007 and now serving on the National Campaign Steering Committee for UND’s $300 million fundraising campaign.
Carla partnered with fellow UND alum Matt Striegel, an NFL agent with Ascent Sports & Entertainment in Colorado, to talk about sports law issues from the perspectives of owners and agents.
The most noticeable element of the discussion was money.
Striegel’s overview of NFL contracts involved sliding scales of signing bonuses from the multi-millions to the hundreds of thousands depending on where a player falls in the draft. While Christofferson noted that the entire salary cap for players on her LA Sparks team is $800,000. Total. In fact, one of the top recruits for the team last year was paid a mere $35,000.
Money is one of the biggest differences between franchises that are established and ones that are still launching. But, money isn’t the key to success or the solver of all problems.
Christofferson was quick to praise the WNBA as an entrepreneurial venture with about two-thirds of its fans and investors focusing on bettering the community, providing role models and building a program for the female players of the future. “The league is the most straightforward business model you can imagine,” she said. With so much mandated across the board (such as all players must fly commercial coach, players are required to have completed college or been away from high school for the same period of time, and players must make public appearances for free), owners are only left to deal with sponsorships and marketing as their primary business worries. “We want to get to the point where everyone can be mean to each other, but right now we can’t,” she joked.
On the flip side, Striegel said, “I got into this because I love football and I wanted to help people. But, the problem is that there’s so much money involved with this, there are a lot of unscrupulous people. There are rules that you can’t ‘poach’ other people’s clients, but it happens every day.” He noted there are 800 certified agents and 600 don’t have clients. “It’s a crazy game of getting clients and then hanging on to clients.”
Both owner and agent remarked how the roles they filled didn’t feel like work, and how their legal degrees have made all the difference. “JDs blow the business people out of the water,” said Striegel, “because when you’re sitting down in a living room talking about a contract, most people want a lawyer.”
Christofferson noted the simplicity she and co-owner Kathy Goodman, both trained lawyers, have while running the business. “Because we’re lawyers,” she said, “we forget this is part and parcel of how we behave – to cut deals, deal with lawsuits. We deal with a lot of those business aspects with so much more ease and less stress. The training you get in law school gives you an edge to know more and protect yourself or whoever you are with. It’s incredibly useful.”
Both also attributed a lot to their North Dakota roots.
Striegel reflected back on taking the bar exam in Colorado and at one point he felt like he was teaching the basics to his study partners from other law schools. “Coming from North Dakota, it’s just ingrained in us that we’re going to outwork everybody.”
With the success she’s had in owning her team since 2006, Christofferson said, “I sort of feel like every NBA and WNBA team should be owned by someone from North Dakota.”
A new theme is chosen each year for the Law School Symposium, hosted by North Dakota Law Review. Submissions are being taken for next year’s theme at: email@example.com
Amanda Hvidsten. "LA Sparks Owner and NFL Agent Talk Sports Law" (2011). UND News Archive. 46.