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Sports and Entertainment Law Society Meets Detroit Tigers Executives

By: Dalton Carty
      Lansing Managing Editor

One reason students come to law school is to become a sports agent. For many, a position in sports or entertainment is a dream they have had since their adolescence.  Although Cooley offers classes in both sports and entertainment law, there is nothing like gaining information from industry professionals who can impart how they came to be in their current posts. Such an opportunity was recently afforded to the Sports and Entertainment Law Society when its members received the chance to talk with Mike Smith, Director of Baseball Operations for the Detroit Tigers, and Attorney Jordan Field, Director of the Detroit Tigers Foundation, on July 3, 2014 before the Tigers played the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Although not an attorney, Mike Smith works closely with the Tigers’ legal staff on player contracts, compliance with Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreements, player contract compliance, compliance with team rules, trades, movement of players up and down the minor league system, statistical and market analyses, baseball operations information technology issues and software development, and all other aspects of baseball operations. Having a bachelor’s degree in geology from Yale and hopes of becoming a meteorologist, Smith quickly became disenchanted with weather systems and knew he wanted to work in baseball because he loved the game.

To obtain a baseball job, he talked to different club employees, usually at spring training, so they knew who he was and his interest in working in baseball. His first baseball job came as an intern which eventually translated into a permanent position with another team due to his constant communication with the club employees he initially met during spring training. Smith came to the Tigers in 2002 after stints with teams in Florida and Pennsylvania. He encouraged the sports and entertainment law students to first and foremost love the game. He said that would allow them to take any available job in a sports franchise even if it meant a reduced salary and engaging in non-legal duties for a while to break into the business.

Attorney Jordan Field came to the Tigers in 2002 after earning his JD at Wayne State University. Field accepted a non-legal job with the Tigers to get a chance to work in Major League Baseball. Eventually, he saw an opportunity to build the organization’s good will, advertise its brand, and solidify his position with the team by starting a nonprofit geared towards helping individuals and community organizations obtain sorely needed funds. Since its inception in 2005, the Detroit Tigers Foundation has awarded over $14 million in grants, Tigers tickets, and college scholarships throughout Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario, Canada. Field, as the foundation’s director, does all its legal work. Moreover, he organizes fundraising activities, solicits corporate partners, handles charitable donations, and coordinates player appearances and auctions of player memorabilia for community and military outreach ventures. As the official charity of the Tigers, the foundation’s mission of enhancing baseball through a focus on youth, education, and recreation has fostered an anti-bullying initiative and several youth baseball programs including Tiny Tigers and the annual Detroit Tigers Hometown Championship.

Field encouraged the students not to limit themselves to the legal department and to take any job they could get because every job has some legal aspects. He recommended students work for an established sports agent to learn the industry. He also said they should be willing to move when necessary, and start with a minor league team. He continued by saying they should not think they are too good for a particular position or task. Lastly, he said students should apply for one of the organization’s 30 paid internships, (none of which are in the legal department) because they provide insight into all administrative departments and a chance to meet Tigers’ employees as well as employees from other franchises. He advised that resumes should have sports education, training, and experience right up front, not buried at the end or omitted completely.

After thanking Smith and Field for their time and cooperation, SELS members watched the Tigers beat the Rays, and some closed the evening with food and drinks at a local restaurant. Admittedly, a good time was had by all who attended.

Attendees: Julie Janeway (SELS Faculty Advisor), Nycolle Schindlbeck (SELS President), Cameron Bell (V.P of Sports for SELS), Kenny Holmes (V.P. of Entertainment for SELS), Lori Padilla (SELS Secretary), Christine Galustians (SELS Treasurer), Antonio Burries*, Ranley Surgent*, Jessica Evangelista*, Joel Montilla*, James Goodman*, Leland Mack*, Josh Pettigrew*, Edward Speights*, Hulando Howard*, Alexandria Sullivan, Marta Schvets, Eric Falk, Ziadanne Lewis, and Dalton Carty

* denotes SELS members

Note: I thank SELS advisor Prof. Julie Janeway and SELS President Nycolle Schindlbeck for their assistance in completing this article. Also, I thank James Goodman and Ziadanne Lewis for transportation to and from the game.