Sunday, June 16, 2019
One student, more than any other in the scandal, has been in the media’s crosshairs: Olivia Jade Giannulli. Olivia Jade - a social media influencer (whatever that means) - seems to be getting so much attention because of her famous parents (actress Lori Loughlin and fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli), and because of some unfortunate comments she made about college on YouTube. Olivia Jade said: "I don't know how much of school I'm going to attend but I'm going to go in and talk to my deans and everyone and hope I can try and balance it all. But I do want the experience of game day and partying, I don't really care about school. As you guys all know. " I don’t know much about Olivia Jade, but she comes across as spoiled, arrogant, selfish, entitled, obnoxious, and lacking self-awareness. In many ways, I hope my children and my students grow up to be her opposite.
In contrast, three runners who I have met at the Music City Distance Carnival (“MCDC”) track meet over the past few years embody character traits that I hope my children and students develop. These traits include toughness, self-discipline, humility, and perseverance.
First is Gabe Grunewald. Gabe passed away earlier this week, after four bouts with cancer. She ran the 1500m at MCDC 2017, just days after a round of chemo. Gabe was tenacious, but also immediately likable, kind, and selfless. Much of her massive, worldwide impact, stemmed from the positivity and resolve with which she faced her grim diagnosis. Her sponsor, Brooks Running, made this moving documentary that features some of her last races and shows the depth of her relationships. After her death, running clubs across the country gathered to run in her honor, and many pro runners featured #bravelikegabe on their race bibs. Gabe’s foundation still funds research to find cures for rare cancers.
Second, 50-year old, former Irish Olympian Shane Healy is still training and racing hard. At MCDC two weeks ago, Share broke the 50-54 year old world record in the mile (4:22), but he actually came in second to 53 year old Brad Barton who also broke the record in 4:19. I spoke to Shane the day after his race. He was gracious and thoughtful despite not claiming the record he flew across the Atlantic Ocean to secure. Shane's childhood (including time in an orphanage) and his adolescence (being bullied and facing financial difficulties) was rough, but seem to have helped build his resilience. He is currently in much better shape than the vast majority of people half his age, and is fiercely competitive, but I also sensed a kindness in him that is usually only found in people who have known deep pain.
Third, Heather (Dorniden) Kampf is probably best known for her college 600m race where she fell, but got up and willed herself to the win. (The 600m is almost a sprint, so this is incredibly impressive). Heather, now known as “the queen of the road mile,” has had a good bit of success, but has finished 7th and 15th in the U.S. Olympic Trials, failing to make the team. She has battled through injuries and even penned an article titled Embracing the Struggle. I talked with Heather briefly at MCDC, and I could quickly tell that she has benefited from not being handed success. She is putting in the work to continue to improve.
These runners are admirable, interesting, likable, and influential, in large part, because of their struggles, because of the way they faced adversity. Yet, the parents in the college admissions scandal, and "lawn mower parents" everywhere, seek to remove all adversity from the lives of their children. Professors now give more "As" than any other grade and the percentage of the top mark appears to be continually on the rise, even though I bet most professors would opine that the quality of student work product is declining overall. As a father of three young children and as a professor, I understand the urge to smooth the path - it is extremely difficult to watch people you care about struggle. Of course, there are times when we should step in and protect, but rather than shielding our children and students from all adversity, I believe we should teach them to deal with the inevitable struggles of life with integrity, humility, determination, and selflessness. As for Olivia Jade, I truly hope she takes her current adversity and uses it as a tool to shape positive character traits.
Monday, April 29, 2019
On Sunday morning, Rivers Lynch, a beloved member of my wife’s side of our family, died suddenly of natural causes. Rivers spent his professional life as an educator – over four decades as a teacher, an administrator, a driving instructor, and a coach of various sports. In 2007, he was inducted into the South Carolina Athletics Coaches Association Hall of Fame for his many successful seasons as a tennis coach, including 11 state championships. Even this year, at the age of 72, he continued to coach the Myrtle Beach High School tennis team.
The outpouring of support on social media has been incredible to witness. Rivers, quite literally, positively affected the lives of thousands of students, colleagues, neighbors, and family members. A few of the countless posts include words like: “I’ve yet to meet anyone so kind and caring.” “Every single person was special to him.” “Truly humble…always greeting me with a smile and making me feel welcome.” “The truest most genuine person I’ve ever had the honor to know.” “A father like figure to all of us.” “A beautiful soul…that smile always brightened my day.” “Touched so many lives.” “Always championed students who were ‘underdogs.’” “My favorite teacher.” “The hero most of us didn’t deserve.”
How did Rivers make such a positive difference in the lives of so many people?
Three interrelated things spring to mind. A Genuine Smile. The headline for Myrtle Beach Online noted what so many people remember about Rivers – that he was “always smiling.” I can’t remember Rivers without his ear to ear smile that absolutely lit up every room he entered. Focused on Others. Rivers won numerous awards as an educator, but he always turned the attention to the success of others. He had well over 3000 Facebook friends (and many more in-real-life-friends), and he constantly celebrated the achievements of his students, colleagues, and family members. He was truly interested in the details of your life, had a remarkable memory for past conversations, and was always fully present. Relentlessly Positive. Rivers was an optimist. While I heard that he could be tough as a coach when the time called for it, he preferred to uplift. Sadly, at least one study shows that pessimism pays in the study of law, but Rivers’ approach to life always reminded me of the deeper benefits of focusing on the positive.
On June 22, 2010, I met Rivers for the first time. On that day, I drove from Charleston to North Myrtle Beach to meet my girlfriend’s extended family. I already knew Katie was the woman I wanted to marry, but I was a bit intimidated at the thought of walking into their family reunion at Rivers’ home. I convinced my youngest brother Sam to join me for support, and we stopped at an outlet mall where we bought him a respectable, collared shirt for the occasion. As I approached Rivers’ front door, I started to sweat even more than typical in the South Carolina summer heat. But, as soon as Rivers opened the door--beaming and offering some spectacular lemonade--I instantly felt welcomed. I remarked to my now mother-in-law that in just a few hours Rivers made me feel like his best friend. Reading over the Facebook comments again, it seems like Rivers made a lot of people feel that way, and he somehow managed to uplift thousands of people in a completely authentic manner.
I cannot fully explain how Rivers positively affected so many people during his time as an educator, but his life reminds me of the power of a genuine smile, the strength of selflessness, and the benefits of an optimist outlook.
Friday, April 12, 2019
As a former compliance officer who is now an academic, I've been obsessed with the $25 million Varsity Blues college admissions scandal. Compliance officers are always looking for titillating stories for training and illustration purposes, and this one has it all-- bribery, Hollywood stars, a BigLaw partner, Instagram influencers, and big name schools. Over fifty people face charges or have already pled guilty, and the fallout will continue for some time. We've seen bribery in the university setting before but those cases concerned recruitment of actual athletes.
Although Operation Varsity Blues concerns elite colleges, it provides a wake up call for all universities and an even better cautionary tale for businesses of all types that think of bribery as something that happens overseas. As former Justice Department compliance counsel, Hui Chen, wrote, "bribery. . . is not an act confined by geographies. Like most frauds, it is a product of motive, opportunity, and rationalization. Where there are power and benefits to be traded, there would be bribes."
My former colleague and a rising star in the compliance world, AP Capaldo, has some great insights on the scandal in this podcast. I recommend that you listen to it, but if you don't have time, here are some questions that she would ask if doing a post mortem at the named universities. With some tweaks, compliance officers, legal counsel, and auditors for all businesses should consider:
1) What kind of training does our staff receive? How often?
2) Does it address the issues that are likely to occur in our industry?
3) When was the last time we spot checked these areas for compliance ? In the context of the universities, were these scholarships or set asides within the scope of routine audits or any other internal controls or reviews?
4) What factors or aspects of the culture could contribute to a scandal like this? What are our red flags and blind spots? Do we have a cultural permissiveness that could lead to this? In the context of the implicated universities, who knew or had reason to know?
5) How can we do a values-based analysis? Do we need to rethink our values or put some teeth behind them?
6) How are our resources deployed?
7) Do we have fundamental gaps in our compliance program implementation? Are we too focused on one area or another?
8) Are integrity and hallmarks of compliant behavior part of our selection/hiring process?
Capaldo recommends that universities tap into their internal resources of law and ethics professors who can staff multidisciplinary task forces to craft programs and curate cultures to ensure measurable improvements in compliance and a decrease in misconduct. I agree. I would add that as members of the law and business community and as alums of universities, we should ask our alma maters or employers whether they have considered these and other hard questions. Finally, as law and business professors, we should use this scandal in both the classroom and the faculty lounge to reinforce the importance of ethics, internal controls, compliance with law, and shared values.
April 12, 2019 in Business School, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Sports, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, March 9, 2019
Yesterday was International Women's Day and I was supposed to post but couldn't think of what to write. I simply had too many choices based on this week's news. It's no coincidence that three months before the World Cup and on International Women's Day, the U.S. Women's Soccer Team sued U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination based on pay and working conditions, including medical treatment, travel arrangements, and coaching. On the one hand, some argue that the women should not receive the same amount as their male counterparts because they do not draw the same crowds or generate the same revenue. The plaintiffs argue that they cannot draw the same crowds in part because they do not get the same marketing and other financial support. In their defense, the U.S. women have won the World Cup three times and have won gold four times at the Olympics. The men's team has never won either tournament and didn't even qualify for the 2018 World Cup. I was in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup and when the men advanced, people were genuinely shocked. No one expected it and I was able to get a ticket to that match 15 minutes before start time for pennies on the dollar. Yet the men earn more.
If U.S. Soccer followed a pay for performance model, the women would and should clearly earn more. But, it's more complicated than that. As the NY Times explained, "each team has its own collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer, and among the major differences are pay structure: the men receive higher bonuses when they play for the United States, but are paid only when they make the team, while the women receive guaranteed salaries supplemented by smaller match bonuses." Even so, the union for the U.S. Men's team supports the lawsuit, stating "we are committed to the concept of a revenue-sharing model to address the US Soccer Federation's "market realities" and find a way towards fair compensation. An equal division of revenue attributable to the MNT and WNT programs is our primary pursuit as we engage with the US Soccer Federation in collective bargaining. Our collective bargaining agreement expired at the end of 2018 and we have already raised an equal division of attributable revenue. We wait on US Soccer to respond to both players associations with a way to move forward with fair and equal compensation for all US soccer players." I will follow the lawsuit filed by Winston & Strawn and report back.
The other stories I considered writing about concerned the ouster Chef Mario Batali and resignation of the founder of UK retailer Ted Baker over sexual harassment allegations. I will save that for next week when I will discuss whether companies should consider listing sexual harassment/misconduct as a material risk factor in SEC filings.
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
I was going to move on to other topics after two recent posts about Nike's Kaepernick Ad, but I decided I had a little more to say on the topic. My prior posts, Nike's Kaepernick Ad Is the Most Business Judgmenty Thing Ever and Delegation of Board Authority: Nike's Kaepernick Ad Remains the Most Business Judgmenty Thing Ever explain my view that Nike's decision to run a controversial ad is the essence of the exercise of business judgment. Some people seem to believe that by merely making a controversial decision, the board should subject to review and required to justify its actions. I don't agree. I need more.
First, I came across a case (an unreported Delaware case) that had language that was simply too good for me to pass up in this context:
The plaintiffs have pleaded no facts to undermine the presumption that the outside directors of the board . . . failed to fully inform itself in deciding how best to proceed . . . . Instead, the complaint essentially states that the plaintiffs would have run things differently. The business judgment rule, however, is not rebutted by Monday morning quarterbacking. In the absence of well pleaded allegations of director interest or self-dealing, failure to inform themselves, or lack of good faith, the business decisions of the board are not subject to challenge because in hindsight other choices might have been made instead.
Things are judgmenty. People are judgmental. At least, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Plus, if I have learned anything in my 47 years, it’s that, in American English, if people say something enough, it becomes a word. That and the #OxfordComma is essential.— Joshua Fershee (@jfershee) September 25, 2018
Well, it seems like you've gotten a very small ball rolling. pic.twitter.com/yMCFkTNZ8D— Professor Bainbridge (@ProfBainbridge) September 25, 2018
So it appears.
Tuesday, September 4, 2018
I am teaching Sports Law this semester, which is always fun. I like to highlight other areas of the law for my students so that they can see that Sports Law is really an amalgamation of other areas: contract law, labor law, antitrust law, and yes, business organizations. I sometimes cruise the internet for examples to make my point that they really need to have a firm grounding the basics of many areas of law to be a good sports lawyer. Today, I found a solid example, and not in a good way.
I found a site providing advice about "How to Start a Sports Agency" at the site https://www.managerskills.org. This is site is new to me. Anyway, it starts off okay:
Ask any successful sports agent: education is the foundation upon which you will build your business. The first step is to earn your bachelor’s degree from an appropriately accredited institution.
. . . .
Once you have obtained your bachelor’s degree, the next step will be to pursue your master’s degree. Alternately, you may choose to pursue a law degree.
While a law degree is not required, the skills you acquire during your studies will be particularly beneficial when it comes to negotiating contracts for your clients. Most major leagues, including the NFL and the NBA, requires their sports agents to possess a master’s degree.
All true. A law degree should also help when it comes to figuring out your entity choice. The site's advice continues:
The next step is to choose a professional name for your business and to create a limited liability corporation (LLC). If you have one or more business partners, then you will need to create a limited liability partnership (LLP).
Yikes. I mean, yikes. First, an LLC is a limited liability company!
Second, I believe that after Massachusetts allowed single-member LLCs in 2003, all states allowed the creation of single-member LLCs, so an LLC is an option. An LLP might be an option, and some professional entities for certain lawyers might be an option (or requirement), such as the PLLC or PC. But the idea that one needs to choose an LLP if there is more than one person participating in the business is flawed. It is correct that to be an LLP, there would need to be more than one person, but this is not transitive.
Anyway, while not great advice, this gives me some good material for class tomorrow. I will probably start with, "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet."
Friday, December 15, 2017
Recently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that Russia will be banned from the 2018 Winter Games for systemic doping.
If you have not watched Icarus (on Netflix) on this topic, I recommend it. The documentary starts slowly, and the story-line is a bit disjointed, but the information uncovered about state-sponsored doping in Russia is fascinating and depressing. Even if you are not a sports fan, you may be interested in the parts in the documentary related to the alleged involvement of the Russian government.
It has been a busy semester, but I am working (slowly) on a journal article on morality clauses in sports contracts. Doping is often specifically mentioned in these contracts, and doping is a sad reality in many sports. Doping also betrays, I think, improper prioritization. While we are starting to see more attention paid to courage and compassion in sports, "winning" has often been promoted as the top priority. Hopefully we will see more people (and countries) who compete with passion, but also with integrity.
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Quietly, just over two months ago, we got our Lady Vols back. As you may recall, back in 2014, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville decided to consolidate its athletic branding behind the ubiquitous orange "Power T." The women's basketball team was exempted from the brand consolidation and retained the Lady Vol name and old-school logo in honor of our beloved departed coach, Pat Head Summitt. (See here.)
Many can be credited with the revival of the Lady Vols brand (and I do consider it to be an accomplishment), although perhaps these five heroic women are owed the largest debt of gratitude for the achievement. I guess my earlier envisioned dreams of profiting from the abandonment of the trademarked Lady Vols logo will not soon be realized . . . .
There are lingering lessons in this affair for businesses and their management--and universities (as well as their athletic departments) are, among other things, businesses. Knoxville's former Mayor weighed in with comments on the matter in a recent local news column, advising "you need to be sensitive to what the customer likes." He concludes (bracketed text added by me):
People will speculate for a long time on how UT let itself get caught up in this unfortunate situation for three years. It did not have to happen. It can be a valuable lesson, if once leaders realize a mistake has been made, postponing a resolution does not improve it. Better to make amends and move on.
Hopefully, DiPietro [the university's President] has learned from this that it is better to get ahead of a volatile issue than to be consumed by it. Currie [the university's new Director of Athletics] and Davenport [the campus's new Chancellor] solved it for him. They have won considerable good will for themselves and the university.
From Coca-Cola and its disastrous New Coke introduction (mentioned in the article) to Google Glass (which may have better applications, for the moment, than the general consumer market), businesses and their management have learned these lessons over and over. Listen to the customer, and if you make a miscalculation, admit it and move on.
As law schools and law instructors continue to innovate to serve students, our universities (for those who are part of one), and the profession (among other constituencies), we may be able to learn a lesson or two from some of the broader experimentation in the business world in the introduction of new products and services. Change for the sake of change or for the sake of branding simplicity, without an understanding of the relevant constituents, certainly is a risky proposition. I hope that we can be thoughtful and consider all affected interests as we innovate. And I also hope that when we fail in our change efforts (and some of us will fail) we can cut our losses and re-appraoch change with new knowledge and renewed energy to succeed.
Getting back to those Lady Vols, our women's basketball team is now 2-0 with convincing wins over ETSU and James Madison. The next game is Monday against Wichita State, followed by a Thanksgiving evening match against Marquette. Go Lady Vols!
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
You couldn't pay me enough to be the owner of an NFL team right now. I almost feel sorry for them. Even if you're not a fan, by now you've heard about the controversy surrounding NFL free agent Colin Kaepernick, and his decision to kneel during the national anthem last year. You've also probably heard about the President's call for NFL owners to fire players who don't stand while the anthem is played and his prediction of the league's demise if the protests continue. Surprisingly, last Sunday and Monday, some of the same owners who made a business decision to take a pass on Kaepernick despite his quarterback stats (citing among other things, the potential reactions of their fans) have now themselves made it a point to show solidarity with their players during the anthem. The owners are locking arms with players, some of whom are now protesting for the first time.
Football is big business, earning $13 billion last year, and the owners are sophisticated businessmen with franchises that are worth on average $2.5 billion dollars each. They care about their fans of course, and I'm sure that they monitor the various boycotts. They are also reading about lawmakers calling for funding cuts for teams that boycott. But they also care about their sponsors. Fortunately for the NFL (and for the players who have lucrative deals), most sponsors that have made statements have walked a fine line between supporting both the flag and free speech. The question is, how long will all of this solidarity last? There is no clear correlation between the rating shifts and the protests but as soon as there is definitive proof or sponsors start to pull out, I predict the owners will do a difficult cost-benefit analysis. Most teams aren't like the Green Bay Packers, which has no "owner," but instead has over 100,000 shareholders. Most teams don't have boards of directors or shareholders to answer to. Most of these owners used their own money or have very few business partners.
The NFL teams owners' decision to maintain support of the players will likely be more difficult than those of the many CEOs who have expressed their disagreement with the President over race-related matters by quitting his advisory boards (see my previous post ). Those CEOs could point to their own corporate codes of conduct or social responsibility statements. Those CEOs considered the reputational ramifications with their employees and their consumers, and the choice was relatively straightforward, especially because there was a more unified public outrage. The NFL owners, on the other hand, have highly skilled "employees" from a finite pool of talent who have been called SOBs by the President but who are also being booed by the fans, their consumers. The owners can't be fired, and it's very difficult to remove them. Should the owners stick with the players (some of whom are brand new to the protest scene) or should they wait to see the latest polls about what fans think about the leadership of America's favorite sport? Should they fire players, as they probably could under their contracts? The big test may come during a planned boycott by veterans during Veteran's Day Weekend. Perhaps I will be proven wrong, and maybe boycotts will have an effect on what the NFL owners and players do, but I predict the players and owners will want to get back to the business of playing football sooner rather than later. I'll keep monitoring the situation this Sunday and for the rest of the season.
Monday, September 25, 2017
A recent Knoxville New Sentinel article (as well as articles and other press coverage, including stories on local television outlets like this one) noted the golden anniversary of The University of Tennessee's unofficial* fight song (also a Tennessee state song), Rocky Top. Any of you who have been to Neyland Stadium--or to Thompson-Boling Arena or any other venue at which the Vols are accompanied by the Pride of the Southland Marching Band or one of the pep bands--are familiar with the tune. Many of our opponents just despise it. It's catchy, and it's country.
And it has led to merch in which The University of Tennessee has an interest. Rocky Top hats, t-shirts, etc. abound. Lyrics from the song (especially "Home sweet home to me") adorn the same. That little song has become a big (read: commercially successful) deal.
But it also has been involved in some recent intellectual property law controversies involving a town just North of us here in Knoxville--a town formerly known as Lake City, Tennessee and now known as (you guessed it) Rocky Top, Tennessee. It will take me two posts to cover this without boring you all, but I will start with the article written by my colleague Brian Krumm and one of our alums, Liz Natal. In Good Ole Rocky Top: Rocky Top Tennessee, Brian and Liz lay out the details of how our beloved song (which co-blogger Doug Moll says periodically rings in his head from a football game long ago . . .) became the name of a town despite a trademark suit over the affair. The details are in the article. For those interested in trademarks, the article lays out the controversy and offers some interesting observations.
But Brian and Liz's piece just tells the early part of the story. There's more to say about the intellectual property ramifications of this name change. Another of my colleagues, Gary Pulsinelli, is working on a piece along those lines now. I will share it with you once he's got at least a draft posted somewhere. But I have heard presentations on this work, and it's also quite interesting--even if Rocky Top is not your thing. Stay tuned!
* The word "unofficial" was added to this post on September 28 in response to a reader's comment, reflected below. The official fight song of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville is "Down the Field," also known as "Here's to Old Tennessee."
Friday, September 15, 2017
From August 31 to September 10, I participated in an excellent 6-week online boot camp called Miler Method. The camp is led by 2x Olympic medalist in the 1500m, Nick Willis, and his wife Sierra. The camp led up to the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile in NYC.
As I have posted about before, I have enjoyed taking some massive open online courses (MOOCs), and I think all educators should familiarize themselves with this form, as the online world is already impacting even the most traditional courses.
The Miler Method, like MOOCs, taught me not only valuable substantive information, but also further instructed me on the art of online education. Below are a few reflections on the pros and cons of the online format as applied to the Miler Method running training camp. My thoughts follow below the page break.
Friday, August 25, 2017
I am delighted that Dr. Jeff Edmonds has agreed to be interviewed for this blog. Jeff and I graduated from the same high school in Chattanooga, TN, a few years apart. We both ran track, though Jeff ran a good bit faster than I ever did, and Jeff continued his running career at Rice University and Williams College. Jeff earned a PHD in philosophy at Vanderbilt University and is currently the high school academic dean at the prestigious University School of Nashville. Jeff coaches a running group called the Nashville Harriers, and he recently revived his excellent philosophy and running blog, The Logic of Long Distance.
The interview follows under the break. In the interview, Jeff shares wisdom on running and education that are well worth your time.
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Reuters reports that minor league baseball players lost a claim for artificially low" wages. The court found, appropriately: "The employment contracts of minor league players relate to the business of providing public baseball games for profit between clubs of professional baseball players."
Samuel Kornhauser, the player's lawyer plan to ask the 9th Circuit to reconsider (probably en banc) or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Kornhasuer, in an interview, stated:
"Obviously, we think it's wrong, and that the 'business of baseball' is a lot different today than it was in 1922. There is no reason minor leaguers should not have the right to negotiate for a competitive wage."
Kornhauser is certainly correct that things have changed in the last 100 years, though I would argue that the justification for the antitrust exemption was just as unfounded in 1922 as it is today. The origin is the Federal Baseball decision, and it was wrong then, and it is wrong now. But it is also the law of the land. The 1998 Curt Flood Act, as the court appropriately explains, "made clear [Congress intended] to maintain the baseball exemption for anything related to the employment of minor league players."
There is no question Congress can change the law, and there is no question Congress has not. This is one to be resolved via negotiation or legislation, issue, and not via the courts.
Friday, June 23, 2017
Brooks paid each participant $100 for 90 minutes.
The group was well-facilitated, and the group members stayed incredibly engaged. The 90-minutes flew by.
The research Brooks was conducting on both shoe design and marketing was extremely qualitative. It was essentially a brainstorming session. I do think Brooks could have gotten more out of the time if they would have had everyone privately write down their own ideas first, as there were about three or four of the ten of us who dominated the discussion.
While this type of focus group was not cheap---$1000 in payment plus renting the room plus travel for two employees from Seattle---it was surely a very small fraction of their production and marketing budget. And I do think Brooks got some valuable ideas. Brooks does this sort of thing all over the country, and their employees said that they do start to hear patterns in the responses. It is those patterns that Brooks acts on, as they can't possibly address every one-off comment.
This focus group made me think that universities should consider similar focus groups with applicants and with local companies. I know a bit of this happens informally at most places, and perhaps it happens formally at some places, but I do wonder if it is done with the same regularity and intensity as for-profit firms like Brooks. I think the insights would be valuable, and even if the insights are poor, the organizing institution does get to explain itself (and show it really cares) to the focus group participants.
Friday, June 16, 2017
Next week, I will write about my focus group experience with Brooks Running.
Last week, on Global Running Day, Brooks announced “the biggest athlete endorsement deal in sports history” saying that they want to endorse everyone who runs….with $1 and a chance to win Brooks running gear.
This would have made a decent April Fools Day joke, but as a serious attempt at building brand value, it is pretty weak.
Brooks would have done much better to follow the lead of Oiselle, a women's athletic apparel company that I have spoken and written about before in regard to their multi-level team of professional, semi-pro, and recreational athletes. The main differences between Brooks and Oiselle is that Oiselle provides value to the team members and creates shared experiences. Oiselle athletes get team gear (even though the recreational runners pay for the gear), and they get invited to numerous group events. Oiselle has state team leaders and helps connect the team members for training and races. The “birds”, as they call themselves, really seem to support each other.
Now, the Oiselle method is definitely more complicated, and it probably comes with various legal risks. For example, what if one the team leaders turns violent or what if a team member gets hit by a car on a run led by a team leader or what if someone gets a bit out of control at one of their camps or parties? (I am sure Oiselle has everyone sign waivers, but as we know, waivers don't always prevent costly litigation and liability). There is also a fair bit temporal and financial costs involved in creating the team singlet, sending out newsletters, updating social media, planning events, etc. But building real community and brand value is almost never easy. (And Oiselle is far from perfect and has its critics, but I applaud Oiselle's effort. That said, if they are still requiring the recreational athletes to both pay and only post photos of themselves on social media in Oiselle gear, that seems overly restrictive. If they are going for authentic, they should provide suggestions instead of mandates. With sponsored athletes, I better understand the restrictions, though even with sponsored athletes you can usually tell a difference between organic and forced marketing posts.)
Sadly, Brooks' “endorsement” isn’t about building community, rather it is a pretty transparent attempt to buy your e-mail address and lure potential customers for $1. (Also, I uncovered in the fine print that they limited the $1 payment to the first 20,000; they have over twice that many signed up already).
As I will write next week, I was impressed with the people running the Brooks focus group, but they didn’t ask us about this “endorsement” idea, and if they asked others about it, I think they got bad advice. Brooks might get a bit of press, and they will probably even get a fair number of email addresses from curious people, but I doubt they will get much of lasting value.
[I wonder how many people who signed up read the fine print. For example, there is a Code of Conduct that will be sent to participants. Also, see the clause below the break seemed incredibly broad.]
Friday, June 9, 2017
In August, 2015, Chinese conglomerate, Wanda Group, acquired IRONMAN (primarily known for its long distance triathlon races) from a private equity group for $650 million.
To start, I had no idea organizing endurance sports had become such big business, but given the increasing popularity and the increasing entry fees, perhaps I should have known.
Personally, I have mixed feelings about big corporations dominating endurance sports, which, previously, had been much less commercial. On one hand, because of their scale, larger corporations like Competitor Group can conduct their events in a very professional manner, produce slick event shirts, measure the courses precisely, host impressive expos before the races and impressive after-parties, maintain plenty of insurance, take proper precautions, and market effectively to bring new participants into the events.
On the other hand, the big corporations often seem focused on a single, financial line. They raise entry fees as high as they can and often seem to spend an incredible amount on marketing. The races organized by big corporations often lack the individual touch of local races. That said locally organized races are a mixed bag. Sometimes they are organized by complete amateurs, and their lack of experience or financial backing shows in things like poorly measured and marked courses. Other times, when organized by devotees of the sport, locally organized races can provide a superior event without the marketing, frills, and shiny gadgets. Perhaps there will be room all types of organizers, especially because the locally organizers are usually nonprofit operations, and therefore are a bit of a different animal.
This strategic acquisition by IRONMAN may be telling regarding the trajectory of races. The long distance races like the IRONMAN (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) had skyrocketed in popularity, but, while those races are still currently popular, I think that many people are starting to realize they don't have the time or the money (the entry fee is often over $500) for that kind of event. Competitor Group brings not only a portfolio of marathons (26.2 miles) to the table, but also half marathons (13.1 miles, which is growing in popularity), 5Ks (3.1 miles), and even 1 mile races.
In any case, I do wish IRONMAN the best with this acquisition, and I hope they will consider all stakeholders as they move forward.
Friday, May 26, 2017
The Nike Oregon Project is coached by running legend Alberto Salazar, who, by all accounts, is both incredibly competitive and dedicated to his work.
Among the athletes who are or have been associated with the Nike Oregon Project (and coached by Salazar )are gold medalist (in the 5000 & 10,000m in 2012 and 2016) Sir Mo Farah, gold medalist (in the 2016 1500m) Matt Centrowitz Jr., and silver medalist (in the 10,000m in 2012 and in the marathon in 2016) Galen Rupp. These three athletes have been the most dominant male distance runners for the U.S. over the last two Olympic cycles.
Allegations of doping is nothing new for the Nike Oregon project coach and athletes. For example, Kara Goucher, U.S. Olympian and former member of the Nike Oregon Project herself, has been extremely vocal with allegations against the group for years. The Times of London published some of the same allegations against the Nike Oregon Project a few months before The New York Times. FloTrack has released what it thinks is the full report from USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency). The allegations are not only of doping, but of drug use that may have engaged the athletes' long-term health.
I haven't seen any of the contracts for the Nike Oregon Project, but I would be willing to wager they contain morals clauses, allowing Nike to terminate the contracts, for cause, if the coach or athletes' actions tarnish Nike's brand. Often these morals clauses do not even require a finding of liability or guilt - often the mere allegations are enough.
In this case, however, given the success of these athletes and coach, I expect Nike to wait to see if the allegations are confirmed. If, however, these athletes or coach were less popular and/or underperforming, the morals clause might have come into play earlier. These allegations do already appear to be hurting Nike's reputation among my friends who follow track & field. Sadly, however, I imagine that most of Nike's customers are more aware of the medals won by the athletes than the current allegations made against the athletes and coach.
This summer, I am working on a paper on morals clauses, including a discussion on when these clauses may be unenforceable, so I will continue to follow this story and may update with new information.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Last weekend, retired NFL receiver Calvin Johnson made news when he revealed that he was not pleased with the Detroit Lions and how they handled his retirement. Johnson is apparently frustrated that the Lions required him to pay back about 10% of the unearned $3.2 million remaining on his $16 million signing bonus from his 2012 contract. This is apparently a thing for the Lions, who sought all of the unearned signing bonus money remaining on Barry Sanders' contract when he abruptly retired in 1999.
This is in contrast to Tony Romo's retirement, in which the Dallas Cowboys released him, making the $5 million remaining on the signing bonus Romo's. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he was following the “Do Right Rule” when he allowed the team to release him. The Seattle Seahawks made a similar decision with Marshawn Lynch.
Some have argued that Johnson is being "pettier" than the Lions in this spat. Mike Florio, a sports writer and graduate of WVU College of Law, where I teach, argued that "while Johnson has every right to be miffed at the Lions, Johnson also should be miffed at himself. Or at whoever advised him to retire instead of biding his time until the Lions would have released him." Florio correctly notes that Johnson had a big cap number likely to come due had he not retired or accepted a restructured deal, so he was coming from a position of power in negotiating, which would have likely forced the Lions to cut him. Still, that doesn't mean Johnson is wrong to be frustrated.
Perhaps Johnson didn't ever want to be cut in his career, even at that point in his carerr. Maybe he just wanted to retire. The Lions were worried, perhaps about "precedent" that other players could use to walk away without paying back the bonus, though there is already such precedent out there, as discussed above, and the Lions have non-binding precedent already in the Barry Sanders case, where an arbitrator said Sanders had to pay back some of his signing bonus. Beyond that, the response to most players would simply be, "I know we didn't ask Calvin Johnson for any money back. You're not Calvin Johnson."
It is true that the Lions could seek money from Johnson, and that Johnson almost certainly, from a legal sense, owed the money. But having a legal right to something doesn't always mean it is a good idea. And that is important for lawyers to remember. The question I would have asked the Lions front office is this: "Is it really worth $320,000 when it is possible that one of your greatest players will feel disrespected by the process? Especially when you already created a rift with one of you other greatest players fifteen years ago?"
Maybe it was asked, and the answer was yes, but I just don't see the upside. My guess is that the Lions asked for a lot more and the two sides negotiated to this figure. But that process, not the payment, is likely what irked Johnson. Why does it matter? Because it tells future people the team wants, especially coaches and free agents, how the Lions do business. And when choosing between two similar offers, that could very well lead one to choose the other team.
I often use these kinds of issues facing a business when teaching the importance of the business judgment rule and allowing a board of directors not to pursue claims it can win (as long as there is no fraud or self dealing). Sometimes, it is better for the entity to let a claim go than to extend a bad story or scare off potential talent. Back in 2007, for example, Billy Donovan was hired to leave his head coaching job at the University of Florida to lead the NBA's Orlando Magic. Just days later, Donovan decided he did not want to leave Florida, and asked the Magic to let him return to the college game. The Magic decided to let him do so without any financial penalty, though they did ask him to agree not to coach in the NBA for five years.
Why let Donovan back out and return to Florida without a payment? For one, the Magic needed to hire a new coach, and you want to send a message that you are a good employer. Second, Donovan was beloved in Florida. He had won two NCAA championships in a key market for the team. Don't irritate your prime audience is always a good bit of advice. There was little upside to being difficult. The team was almost certainly irritated, but there is little value in letting that lead to bad publicity and unnecessary public spats. This principle extends well beyond the sports realm, but it is especially important in any area where employers fight for talent, which is common in the sports and entertainment areas.
In assessing the legal (and business) options for the Calvin Johnson situation, good lawyering requires a recognition that key issues were likely related to perception and respect, not money. As such, the fact that there was an argument about repayment at all was the issue that made Johnson frustrated (and now could have repercussions in the future free agent market). It is certainly possible the Lions assessed this risk and decided it was worth it. I disagree that it was worth it, but that would be a reasonable decision. (As a life-long Lions fan, I will need more evidence the problem was properly assessed, though I do hold out hope for the new front office.)
Such decisions, if made simply on the legal merits (e.g., Would I win in court?), run the risk of what Jeff Lipshaw calls "pure lawyering," which is essentially legal reasoning without context or assessment of non-legal impacts or opportunities. As Lipshaw explains in the preface to his book, Beyond Legal Reasoning, A Critique of Pure Lawyering:
Legal reasoning is merely one way of creating meaning out of circumstances in the real world. In its pure form, it does nothing more than convert a real-world narrative to a set of legal conclusions that have no necessary connection either to truth or morality.
Or the ability to recruit free agents.
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
The Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders are soon to become the Las Vegas Raiders. This has fans in an uproar, with some saying the move is like losing "family." Moves of sports teams are rarely well received in the place the team leaves, and this move is no different.
Teams move for a variety of reasons, though the primary reason comes down to money. And there's nothing wrong with that. Although it is a loss for long-time fans, the team will get new fans in the locations (if history is any indication), and it's certainly the right of the business owners to decide what is best for their business. In the judgment of Raiders' ownership, it's time for Vegas Baby.
The structure of the NFL is such that team owners need approval of the league to make such a move, which makes sense because a sports league is necessarily dependent on other teams. As such, the teams have created some obligations to one another and agreed to give up some level of control for the good of the league. All but one team voted to support the move to Vegas (the Miami Dolphins dissented), giving the Raiders 31 votes, when they only needed 24. Thus, it means the other league owners (sans the Dolphins' owners) thought the move was in their best interest, too.
This makes three recently announced NFL team moves. In addition to the Raiders, the former St. Louis Rams returned to Los Angeles, and the former San Diego Chargers are now a second L.A.-based team. This means the super majority of NFL owners feel all of these moves are in the best interest of the league, or are at least neutral to the moves. This makes some sense, as there had been relative stability for the league teams, with the last move before these three taking place in 1997, when the Houston Oilers left for Tennessee (Memphis temporarily, then Nashville in 1999).
Moving forward, though, how much will fans take? If several more teams make a move in the next few years, will it upset fans to the point that they stop watching? Hard to say, but the league will be able to put a stop to it if they are concerned. There are a number of older stadiums in the league, so there may be more moves to come. There will almost certainly be threats to move, even if teams end up staying put.
If teams keep moving, it's possible the league could be hurt, but that would require the NFL fans in the old league cities to stop watching the NFL. That could happen, but it seems unlikely. Either way, it probably won't be a move that tells us the league is being harmed. Instead, it will probably be when teams without a lease don't get a lucrative offer to move another city.
Friday, February 17, 2017
Last week Runner’s World reported:
Mariya Savinova-Farnosova, a Russian middle distance runner, was given a four-year ban for doping by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Friday. She will also be stripped of two gold medals she won at the 2011 world outdoor championships and 2012 London Olympics, as well as a 2013 world silver medal, all in the 800 meters.
As a result, U.S. athlete Brenda Martinez will likely soon be upgraded to a silver medal for her performance in the 800 meters at the 2013 world championships and American Alysia Montaño will receive bronze medals for her races at the 2011 and 2013 world championships. Officials will first need to verify the new results.
In this post, I’ll examine how the presumably clean athletes—like Brenda Martinez and Alysia Montaño in this case—should be treated with regards to their endorsement contracts. The main question is:
- Should the clean athletes be awarded their endorsement contract performance bonuses based on world rankings than have been revised to exclude doping athletes?
Respected law firm Reed Smith has some helpful contract interpretation materials available here, which is relevant to the discussion. All of the following is merely an academic exercise and not legal advice.
Contract Drafting and the Text of the Contract.
As with any contractual issue, we should start with the text of the contracts. Since few of these endorsement contracts are publicly available, I will use the language in Nike’s endorsement contract that was filed in the Nike v. Berian case last year.
A great many contract disputes could be avoided with clear drafting. If an endorsement contract stated that performance bonuses would be paid based on any revised rankings that remove doping athletes, then I imagine that language would control and the clean athletes would promptly get paid the difference between their old and new ranking. Doping has been uncovered frequently enough in sports like cycling and track & field (aka “athletics”) that such a contractual clarification might be helpful to include on the front end of the drafting process.
The proposed Nike contract in the Berian case does contain promised performance bonuses, based on world rankings, with additional bonuses for Olympic and World Championship Medals (pg. 14), but I did not see any guidance regarding world rankings that are revised due to doping. The potential bonuses in the Berian case were fairly significant, with the top bonus of $150,000 exceeding the proposed annual base pay of $125,000. The contract does allow Nike to terminate the contract due to any sponsored athlete’s doping offense (pg. 9), but, again, I don’t see anything about doping by the athlete’s competitors.
As the Reed Smith contract interpretation flowchart correctly states, judges attempt to construe contracts in accordance with the parties’ intent. We first look at the text of the contract, and can only look at the contract language if the wording in unambiguous. If the contract language is ambiguous (reasonably susceptible to more than one interpretation) then the court may be able to look beyond the contract (parol evidence) to determine the intent of the parties.
Here, I think the parties' intent might be interpreted either way. On one hand, the athlete could argue that the intent was to award bonuses based on the fair world rankings, which would exclude drug cheats. On the other hand, the sponsor could argue that they were paying for publicity, and that the revised rankings publicity is typically significantly less than the publicity surrounding achievement during the actual Olympics or World Championships.
As a practical matter, like most legal disputes, it probably makes sense for the athlete and the sponsoring company to settle the matter outside of court. An example of a principled negotiation could involve the sponsor paying the difference in the performance bonuses, and the athlete promising to do an anti-doping ad for the sponsor or a few extra appearances related to the new rankings.
It future posts, I may write about the appropriate punishment for athletes who use performance enhancing drugs. For example, is jail time appropriate? I may also post on ways to further compensate the clean athletes for their lost earnings, publicity, and recognition.