Sports Law alumni blend love for the game with global, innovative opportunities

Jeff Reel, vice president and general counsel for ATP Tour Inc., has drafted many contracts with international companies during his 18 years with the tour. Rolex, Club Med, Waterford Crystal and Barclays Bank are just a few of the big corporations with which Reel has negotiated trademark relationships.

But despite those highs, Reel has seen his share of lows in the business of sports, and his perspective is global.

Jeff Reel with sons, Davis and Hayden

“There was definitely a down period when the economy was down,” said Reel, a class of 2000 alumnus and a Coastal Law adjunct professor. “Major companies weren’t doing sports sponsorships anymore. In fact, a lot of them were pulling back from that.”

However, if sports marketing provides any glimmer of consumer confidence, Reel said business is picking up.

In February, Reel and the ATP orchestrated a major sponsorship deal with Corona in Mexico City and, most recently, negotiated a plum sponsorship relationship with FedEx to bring them on as an ATP sponsor.

“This year has been one of the best, if not the best year Iíve seen,” he said. “These are the kinds of things that, as a lawyer in my position, you like working on: getting to work with international companies you want to have your brand associated with. It certainly helps to raise our profile in the sports world — and it’s a lot more fun doing that than working on litigation.”

The growing international flavor of sports flaw is also a trend Joshua Kane is seeing in his line of work. Kane, associate counsel at the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) in Daytona Beach and a 2007 graduate, said LPGA is getting into many more markets for sports sponsorships than it has in the past.

“If you look at the LPGA, we’ve exploited opportunities all over the world,” said Kane. “Emerging markets like China, Japan and South Korea offer great business opportunities and an untapped consumer marketplace.”

His expertise has been a boon in emerging markets.

“The business and legal issues are complex, including negotiation of governing law and dispute resolution mechanisms,” Kane said.

Kane also cited the use of new platforms as another emerging trend. Technology has provided many creative and previously untapped outlets for reaching fans. So keeping up with technology, industry standards and communication laws related to marketing and the promotion of sports and athletes has added another layer of growth to the business.

Florida Coastal School of Law helped both Kane and Reel gain a practical perspective of the industry ó a quality both attorneys make a point to share with up-and-coming attorneys, interns and students.

“Before I entered the LPGA as an intern, I was familiar with both legal and business sports issues,” said Kane of his Florida Coastal education. “You receive an insiderís perspective in the school’s sports law program, and I also see it in my interns from the school.”

The school gave Kane an opportunity to pursue two passions ó sports and law. He said he worked as closely as he could with Professor Rick Karcher to find and seize new opportunities to expand his experience. The first summer of his law school career, Kane worked for a corporate legal department and the next summer worked for MPS Group in Jacksonville. Later came Kane’s first big break to intern at LPGA.

“During my LPGA internship, I worked as many hours as I could and tried to involve myself in as many business meetings as I could,” Kane said. “Just before graduation, I received a job offer — a product of hard work, good timing and luck.”

Four years later, Kane continues to pay it forward, routinely recruiting interns from Florida Coastal at LPGA.

Joshua Kane

“Coastal’s interns are more familiar and better prepared to discuss and research sports legal and business issues,” he said. “The school focuses on practical skill-building, and that makes a difference in the workplace.”

As a student, Reel said he was impressed with the professors and training he received at Florida Coastal. Now an adjunct professor, Reel works to help his students focus on practical training. His mid-term and final exams test knowledge of black letter law, but also students’ abilities to draft contracts or interpret memos from business clients.

“I’ve had a lot of students say that was great to do because itís not something other classes always allow for,” Reel said. “I set it up so that my classes are designed for practical experience.”

In the working world, however, Reel is still ecstatic to be working in the field of sports law — and even more delighted to be living in Northeast Florida. Reel, an avid sports fan from the Chicago area, said it did not take long to say yes to the job offer that set his career in motion at ATP Tour and Florida Coastal School of Law.

“It’s a fun area to work, and fun to see our work out there on ESPN and in the news,” Reel said. “There are a lot of really good people in the business, too, which makes it easy to get up in the morning and get to work.”