PUBLISHED:December 18, 2009

Bilas '92 leads panel discussion at Duke Center for Sports and the Law's inaugural event

Representatives of Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, and individual professional athletes examined the challenges and rewards of conducting athletic competition on a global stage during a Dec. 9 panel discussion, “The Internationalization of Professional Sports,” at Weil, Gotshal & Manges in New York.

[View a photo gallery from the event. View a video of the event.]

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas T’86, L’92 moderated the conversation, which began with a general inquiry about new developments in athletic competition before advancing to specific concerns including the logistical challenges of expanding into international markets as well as the nature of the relationships between professional sports leagues and their international governing bodies.

The discussion revealed that the leagues share many of the same general challenges as they export their respective products throughout the world; however, any sense of a shared destiny among the businesses is tempered by their own competition for athletes, marketing dollars, and public attention.

“The world is globalizing; if we don’t do that we will ultimately lose out,” said Mark Waller, chief marketing officer for the NFL. Waller noted that over time the “passion driver” has changed for sports fans, who no longer have the luxury of rooting for homegrown players competing for their local teams. “It is only right and proper now that we have a global community that sports represent that,” he said.

Joining Waller on the panel were Tim Brosnan, executive vice president for business of Major League Baseball, Adam Silver T’84, deputy commissioner and chief operating officer of the National Basketball Association, and Jim Tanner, a partner at Williams & Connolly specializing in sports and entertainment law and negotiations.

The panelists acknowledged a focus within their respective sports leagues on the concerns of both domestic and international competitors and audiences. However, differences in the length and timing of schedules as well as the nature of the competitions themselves affect the manner and degree in which the games can be exported to other countries.

Tanner used the example of his client, Houston Rockets forward Shane Battier T’01, to illustrate how individual players can potentially benefit domestically by first appealing to international audiences.

In 2006, Tanner negotiated an endorsement contract for Battier with PEAK, a Chinese sportswear company, which he says he viewed as a “platform” deal. “If we could get this much exposure in China, hopefully it can lead to other opportunities here,” Tanner stated.

Professor Paul Haagen noted the absence of faculty from the expert panel at the Center’s opening event, which attracted more than 150 attendees. This was a deliberate omission, he says, that reflects a desire to listen and generate a base of information on which to act.

Bilas applauded the effort to merge the academic and professional worlds.

“To have all those different perspectives and to engage those who are not in the field is an extraordinary opportunity,” said Bilas. “It speaks well of Duke Law to be engaging in this type of conversation. I give all the credit in the world to Dean Levi and Paul Haagen. They have great vision and are just very inquisitive.”

Jeffrey Tabak T’79, L’82, a partner and co-head of the private equity fund formation practice at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, was impressed with the discussion and pleased that it took place at his firm.

“For my family, Duke is just a very special place,” he said. “To be able to host this event was not only my pleasure but also very exciting as well.”

About the Center for Sports and the Law

The Center for Sports and the Law represents the Law School’s commitment to studying contemporary legal, business, and ethical issues through the lens of professional and college athletics. Faculty members aligned with the Center will organize conferences, publish research findings, and speak publicly on these topics.

“The Center for Sports and the Law will provide a forum for the exchange of ideas on a wide range of legal issues that arise in professional and collegiate sports,” Levi says. “With our considerable faculty expertise in this area, Duke Law School is well positioned to contribute to our understanding of modern sport and its regulation.

“Given the University’s longstanding strength in athletics, it is particularly exciting to work with Kevin M. White, vice president and director of athletics, in starting this Center,” he adds. “We both expect that the Center will draw on the many friends and alumni of the University and the Law School, many of whom have a passionate interest in sports and in law and who have careers at the highest reaches of sport and sports law.”

“This is a tremendous collaboration between the Duke Law School and Duke Athletics and another example of university departments working together,” Kevin White says. “College athletics has expanded dramatically over the years and given that growth, legal issues impacting the industry are more prevalent than ever. The establishment of the Duke Center for Sports and the Law is an appropriate step in examining these matters by some of the brightest legal minds in the field.”

The Center for Sports and the Law will draw upon the expertise of Haagen and numerous other faculty members with sports law experience, including Professor John C. Weistart; Professor Doriane Coleman; Professor James Coleman Jr., Duke’s John S. Bradway Professor of Law; and Professor Charles T. Clotfelter, Duke’s Z. Smith Reynolds Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics and Law.

Weistart co-authored The Law of Sports, a foundational work in the sports law field. Doriane Coleman won four national championships in track and field during 14 years of domestic and international competition for Nike and the Swiss and U.S. national teams and was centrally involved in developing USA Track & Field’s anti-doping program. James Coleman, a former high jumper at Harvard University, has been involved with cases involving the drug policies of USA Track & Field, the National Football League, and the International Triathlon Federation. Clotfelter is writing a book that examines the role of big-time athletics at American universities.

“Sport has clearly become one of the most critical forms of international cultural exchange, and it has some of the most elaborate and effective international organizations,” says Haagen, an expert in contracts, the social history of law, and law and sports whose forthcoming book examines the latter topic. “It is also the way in which many legal issues are presented to the public, issues related to labor, anti-trust, even criminal law. It therefore becomes an opportunity to talk about these things in ways that are particularly salient for the public.”