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SELS: Annual Discussion with Detroit Tiger Executives

By Dalton Carty,
Lansing Managing Editor

On July 17, 2015, the Lansing chapter of the Sports and Entertainment Law Society made another trip to visit Detroit Tigers baseball executives. As they did in July 2014, SELS members talked with Tigers officials on a myriad of issues concerning the practice of sports law. With their usual kindness, the officials responded to questions and made accommodations for SELS members to watch a Tigers baseball game following the Q&A session. Director of Tigers Fantasy Camps Jerry Lewis met the students in the lobby and escorted them to the conference room where they would talk to him, Tigers Associate Counsel Amy Peterson, and Tigers Foundation Director Jerry Field. Although Lewis is not a lawyer, but Peterson and Field are, all three discussed their history with the organization, their duties, and encouraged the students to remain steadfast in their desire to work in baseball despite the numerous setbacks they may encounter.

Peterson said she came to the Tigers as a community affairs intern following completion of law and business school. She always had a fondness for baseball and wanted to work for the game since she was fourteen. Yet, she was rejected by a majority of the clubs including the Tigers before she got the chance to be a Tigers intern. However, she soon become the community affairs coordinator and then manager of sponsorship services. All the while, she did volunteer arbitration work at night for the Tigers general counsel, John Westhoff, in order to gain a better understanding of the legal dynamics involved in baseball.  After roughly five years, she was made Tigers associate counsel.

Peterson said each day is different and she has no idea what to expect when she arrives at Comercia Park every morning. When asked what she had done that day, she said she sent copious cease and desist letters to infringers of the Tigers old English D trademark. The importance of controlling the brand was echoed by Lewis who said he had to stop groups that came to his department to organize promotional activities from using the Tigers logo in marketing the activity. Peterson said protecting the trademark was pivotal to ensuring sponsors, who pay a premium to be official sponsors of the Detroit Tigers, receive the exclusivity they deserve.

Peterson said she also had to address the Tigers view concerning the Confederate flag when a fan saw it on Kid Rock’s website along with a statement that he was partnered with the club. In response to the fan’s question, Peterson discussed the issue with the Tigers VP of Communications to ensure her answer was in concert with the team’s stance.

Peterson told the students they needed to be open minded if they really wanted to work in baseball. That is, they should seek work in any department not just the legal division in order to gain a foothold in the industry. She said there is too much ambiguity in the legal department and most club lawyers don’t know how to handle some issues that arise (at least not without considerable thought and research) let alone explain the appropriate remedies to a law student. She also said students should seek positions with corporations like Rebok that are closely connected to baseball clubs. She said such positions are more abundant and offer better pay and hours than baseball positions.                 

Jordan Field started with the Tigers in 2002 as an unpaid volunteer following his graduation from Wayne State College of Law and passage of the Michigan bar exam. In time, he received a paid internship and thereafter became a coordinator. Finally, he was placed in a strategic role to help the organization begin a team charity. He drafted articles of incorporation, mission and business statements, and contracts for the Tigers Foundation and eventually was made director of the charity because of his superior work in its creation. Since its inception, the Tigers Foundation has awarded over seventeen million dollars in scholarships and grants. Additionally, the foundation has renovated numerous baseball fields, spearheaded countless community programs, and manages player appearances and philanthropy.

Like Peterson, Field told the students they needed to be flexible and do whatever was necessary to get their foot in the door because managerial or legal positions in baseball were limited and the people who currently held those positions usually stayed in them. He also suggested the students apply to bad teams because those teams needed young, motivated individuals who are willing to work for free or reduced salaries. Lastly, he recommended the students identify any job in sports (whether it is in the minor leagues, college, or corporation) and apply to those rather than restrict themselves to professional teams. He said those jobs will satisfy a student’s desire to work in sports. Basically, he said a law student who desires a career in sports must be willing to start somewhere other than a professional team’s legal department.

Following the discussion, SELS members watched the Tigers beat the Baltimore Orioles. Then, the group enjoyed pizza and some remained overnight in Detroit to celebrate the birthdays of a few members while others traveled back to Lansing.

In closing, the Detroit Tigers is one of the most prized sport franchises in Michigan. The insight imparted by its officials was highly regarded by SELS members as relevant and useful. Undoubtedly, the experience will help any attendee secure a dream job in sports.