Don Meehan, President, Newport Sports Management, Inc.


[Music] Number one sports
agent, very close friend of mine, he’s
been here many times. We even brought, one year,
Donny, remember we brought Brian Burke?
>>Yes.>>Brian Burke was, I think,
General Manager of the Leafs at the time. We couldn’t
bring him back because you and I didn’t get a
word in in that class! So, we we sent him to
Calgary, so Burke is out. We’re going to start
the good questions here. Ali Ahmed. Where’s Ali?>>Good afternoon.
My question is that you’ve made substantial
change in your career path, going from
corporate and tax law to becoming a player
or a player agent for NHL players and I understand that in
today’s economy, many of us are going to
be working for a number of employers
or may even go through career changes ourselves. I wanted to know if
you could highlight certain factors that
made you change your career path and
also, if you could give us advice when
we should consider a career change.
>>That’s a good question because I feel that
Ralph and I would be very different as lawyers,
in terms of our career paths. We started out the same way and – but went to law
school, got a law degree, did my articling, started with a firm in Toronto,
which was a firm of about 40 lawyers at
that point in time, and I practiced with
them for about three years and I had
a decision to make at that point in time
because the firm said, we like who you are,
we like what you’re doing, we like what you’re billing, but in effect, we want to
stabilize ourselves here. We want you to commit to the firm for a long time
and as a result of that, we’ll talk to you about a
partnership possibility. And I said, well, I like
that and I’m honoured by that, but really, what
I want to do is not what I’m doing now and I said,
I’d really like to be a practicing lawyer,
but I’d love to be involved in a sport
and I had this vision that I’d like to represent
professional athletes. And the firm at that
point in time said to me, well that’s
a nice thought, but we really don’t
think that’s going to make us any money
and if you want to stay here, we want
you to continue to do the work that you’re doing. So, I really, really had a
tough decision to make at that stage in my career.
Really, when I look back, a pretty courageous decision because the easy path
would have been to stay with the firm,
have a regular salary, a real good salary,
become a partner and be a part of the firm. But I really had to sit
back and determine, what did I want to do personally. So, did I want to be a part
of a firm that would have rules and regulations,
that would conduct business in the way
they thought it was best? They wanted to channel my efforts in a direction of doing
corporate law and tax and that would have really been the easy thing to do. Now, what I really decided
at that point in time is that’s not what I want to do,
this is what I want to do. So, there weren’t any
law firms out there in 19 – this was in 1980 – there weren’t any law firms that would have hired me
to say, great, you go ahead and do what
you want to do and we’ll subsidize you
in the meantime. Because to build a practice of any substance would
be probably – you’d be looking at six to seven years. Now, no law firm really
wanted to say we’re keen on that investment
and quite frankly, in 1981 the work that
I do really wasn’t prevalent in the law
at that point in time. There weren’t that
many lawyers who are representing
professional athletes. It just wasn’t the way
that the leagues, professional leagues operated. So, I decided I’m going
to make this move and I decided to leave the firm. Well, at that point in time,
you could imagine family, relatives, friends saying,
are you out of your mind? Who’s going to pay you
in the meantime? So, essentially, whatever
little money I had, I used to support myself
and went to the bank and told them that
I had this plan and gave me very little
money and then just basically lived
day to day for a period of about
nine to ten years. So, everybody that
I knew was making a lot more money than I was. Everybody was – they
were buying homes. I mean, I rented an
apartment, drove an old car, really for a
period of about ten years. Well, actually, I paid
my secretary more than I made for eight
and a half years and any money that
I made, I put back into the business and
just decided that I would invest in
growing the business. So, in retrospect now
when I look back, I’m not sure that I
could do that again. That was a pretty
tough time. I mean, it was thrilling, it’s
what I wanted to do. I never regretted going
to the office. But dealing with a bank
and dealing with finances really was tough. Now, in retrospect when
I look back, it’s the best thing I ever did in my life. And the colleagues and
friends that I have say, I wish I had your courage
and conviction to do what you did because I’d love to be doing what you’re doing. So, when I convey advice
to young people like yourselves, I think the key is – and, you know, you’re
so young and it’s a really long life – the
best advice I could convey to you is, really,
do what you want to do that you have
a passion for. It’s not going to be
easy at times to be able to do that because
you’re going to have to sacrifice, but it’ll
come back to you. It’ll come back to
you in so many ways by way of being
professionally gratified, satisfied with your
career, loving what you do. There’s an old saying about
going to work every day – when I started in 1980
to do this, there isn’t a day that I ever felt
I was going to work. There isn’t a day today that
I feel I’m going to work because what I’m
doing, I love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for anything. So, I’m not sure
that my situation is that stark or is that
unique where you have to make those
kind of difficult choices. And in many ways, I
became an entrepreneur. So, I founded a company, established a company
and really became an entrepreneur like
maybe some of your family or friends and
your dads, your parents who invest in running
a company and starting a company.
They’ll tell you the sacrifices that they’ve
made to be successful. But, I would tell you in retrospect, it’s the
best thing that I ever did. And that was a career change.>>So, your agency has
represented an impressive number of NHL players. However, in 1992, you
helped negotiate for salary increases, pension plan
enhancement and employee assistance
and educational programs for on-ice officials. How did you make the
decision to represent these officials and how has
this had an effect on your career and the
league as a whole?>>Well, in 1992, Gary Bettman
first came to the league and his first labour issue wasn’t necessarily
going to be with the players, it was going to
be with the officials. And I didn’t in any way think that I’d ever be involved in that, but I was, at that point
in time, after 11 years of practice, my practice
was starting to establish itself and be
pretty successful. And I met with three officials, three referees on a plane and they said, they came
up to my seat and said, would you do us a favour? Would you look at our
collective bargaining agreement? We happen
to be going out to LA. We were on the same
flight and I said, sure, I’ll have a look at your collective
bargaining agreement. And I read it and I thought
to myself, these guys are in big-time trouble.
This is a horrible agreement. At that point in time, for those of you who
know the game of hockey, linesman, starting linesman,
were making $29,000 a year. My first thought was,
for the game to be better, there’s no chance
that our game will attract people who want to become officials in our game
for this kind of money. They’re making a sacrifice because they love the game but this isn’t enough to substantiate
their lifestyles. So, I looked through the agreement and I thought, this is
going to be one hell of a challenge and
I thought, maybe I can just blow this
off and tell them you need a lot of help
and maybe they thought, well that’s
what we wanted to hear and go their own way. But they said, in effect,
when I told them what I thought, they said,
well, would you consider representing us? And I thought, I don’t know,
I’ve got a good thing going here, this looks
like a real challenge. And the next day,
I called up a good friend of mine who’s
a senior lawyer at Goodman’s and –
he appears before the Supreme Court
on a regular basis – and I said to him, I know you think I
might be crazy, but I’m going to ask you,
would you like to be co-counsel with me
in representing the officials against the
National Hockey League? And I thought he’d say,
are you out of your mind, I mean, I’m not
going to do that. And he said, I’d love to. And it proved to be one
of the best challenges and experience of my life. I thought it was going to
kill me because essentially, we went night and day
and we started a year and a half before the collective bargaining agreement matured. And this was the first real
issue with Gary Bettman. And we ended up
going out on strike. So, we worked with
the officials for a year and a half before the
agreement ended and we started negotiating
with the league six months prior to that timeframe. Back and forth to New York, Toronto, all over the place. And negotiating it and
really, we were a small association of I think at that point in
time 68 officials and we negotiated against
the league with all the money and power of Madison Avenue against two lawyers. And we went through
that process, went out on strike and your friend Brian Burke
issued an edict from the league that I and Harry Radomski, my co-counsel, wouldn’t be permitted in any building
in the league. So, we were ostracized from rinks until this thing got settled. So, we took the officials
out on strike and then negotiated a CBA which
changed the lives of officials in our
game so the game could attract good officials
and good people. And the thing about our officials in hockey is that not
only do they have to have tremendous
judgment, they have to skate. So, as opposed
to an umpire, they don’t have to move. Officials in basketball, football really, in large measure,
don’t have to move. These guys have a skill to
perform their task, as well. So, we set a benchmark in terms of officials
and the decision that I made at that point in time – there were times
I thought, what have I possibly done, this
is grinding to a halt, we’re going out on strike, we’ve got officials
that are really worried, they may lose their jobs,
we’ve got families calling, saying, are you sure you
know what you’re doing. You know, if they fire us,
what are we going to do? So, we negotiated a successful CBA. I remember Gary Bettman
had said to me, he said, well, we’ll make the
announcement in New York. And I said, well, I’ll
tell you what, you make the announcement
in New York, I’m going to make the announcement in Toronto with the officials
and he said, well, I think we’ll come to Toronto
and make the announcement. So, that was one for Canada against the United States.
I was pretty proud of that.>>Was there no conflict, you acting for players
and officials who – with that, did it enter
your mind or how did you resolve that?>>At that time, we were
permitted to represent league personnel, so
we could represent officials, which we did.
We could represent coaches. And then because the NHLPA decided that
they felt there could potentially be a conflict – So, in the last CBA
that they negotiated, well, I think two or
three CBAs ago, they negotiated with the
league to the extent and the NHLPA pushed
it, I think for two reasons. One, because we were so successful and that
powerful that they wanted to mitigate
against that and secondly, they thought
there could be a perceived conflict.
So, we now to this day can’t represent
league personnel. So, I can’t represent
the officials, I can’t represent coaches.
And my co-counsel Harry Radomski, who’s
had a brillant career, still represents the
officials, to this day.>>We’re going to
talk about the contract, just negotiations.
>>The first negotiation that I ever attended,
I was with the law firm that I articled with
and one of the principals in my firm
said, we have a negotiation and I know you love the game of hockey, so I want
you to prepare a case. I want you to do
analytics and it was – I know you’re all
too young here, but it’s a player that played for Toronto and he had a reputation. His name was Eddie Shack. So, have any of you ever
heard of Eddie Shack? Okay, well, let me
describe him in a way. You’re all too young for that.
>>You have to Google Eddie Shack, but he’ll tell you.
>>But he played in the 60s and 70s when
they were winning and he was aging, so
he was getting near the end of his career
and his nickname was Eddie the Entertainer. So, he would antagonize
the other guys on the other team, was a character,
made people laugh, but this really was his swan song. He may have had a year
or two left and that was it. So, the principal in my firm said, do what you can, dress
this case up as much as you can, have all
the stats in the world to support
this guy and we’re going into a negotiation
and we’re going to go meet Harold Ballard
and Jim Gregory. So, again, have any of you
heard of Harold Ballard or do you know
anything about him?>>Way before their-
Harold Ballard used to own Toronto Maple Leafs.
Legendary character.>>A character that
would do all the wrong things in terms of
today’s environment – foul language, drinking,
carousing, crusty old guy who actually was getting
a little bit senile near the end. So, we had to go in and
meet Jim Gregory, who was a lovely man, who
was the General Manager and this is my first negotiation. So, were there any courses
to prepare me for this? Not a chance. And as
Ralph said, I basically went in thinking, I need
to be prepared and I could dress this case
up as much as I could. So, we got into the room with Bob Watson, who was
my principal, and myself and Eddie Shack and
with that, Harold Ballard came in and I can’t tell you what he said, I can’t tell
you how much he swore, but essentially, he was saying, Eddie, what are these
two guys doing here? And Eddie said, well,
they’re my agents. Well, that just set
him off on a tear. You have to understand,
back in those days, we weren’t really recognized or
respected in any way. And he used all the foul language in the world
and basically said to his manager Jim,
you sort this out with Eddie. Forget these, I guess I could say
it, forget these two assholes. Forget these guys and
just get this deal done. So, Ballard left the room
and Jim Gregory said, well you’ve heard it
from the owner. What do you want to do? So, I began talking about
Eddie and his career and doing the best I could
to make a case for getting the best contract
that we could for him. And in those days, we were looking for two more
years at 65,000 and 70,000 a year. And Jim Gregory said to us,
you’ve got no chance. Eddie, the best I could do for you would be one year
and if that, maybe 50,000, but not 65 or 70,000, you’re
out of your mind. So, Eddie said, you know what? Well, now we’re at a standstill. And I wasn’t experienced,
I didn’t know what to say. So, Eddie said, I’ll tell you what Mr. Gregory, why
don’t we flip for it? We’ll flip and if I win,
I get the 65, if you win, you get the 50,000. How else are we
going to decide this? The two lawyers, we said nothing. Jim Gregory said,
you know what Eddie? That’s fine, we’ll flip. So we took money
out of our pockets. We flipped. Eddie lost. So Jim said, well I guess
that settles it. We were devastated.
Didn’t know what to say. Lawyers didn’t say anything.
Eddie said just nothing. And with that Ballard
walked back in the room and he said to everybody, did you guys get
this settled yet? Nobody said anything
and Eddie said, no, but we’ve agreed
we’ll flip for it, Harold. What do you think?
[Laughter] Ballard said, all right,
I’m all for that. We flip, Eddie won,
he got 65,000. So, that’s my first negotiation. As Ralph indicated, that’s
how you begin to learn from experience. It’s changed a lot since then.
>>Where’s Fatima Jawando?>>So, you’ve been very
successful in establishing Newport Sports Management Inc. as the most successful
player agent business in the hockey industry worldwide. However, achieving the success
must have been far from easy. In a 2011 National Post article, you responded
to 20 questions and one was regarding
the impact of Pat [LaFontaine] on your rise to power, where you mentioned he had
a dramatic effect because when you were
starting, you did not have the credentials to go to an existing player and say
that you were in a position to represent them. Nonetheless, you were able
to successfully persuade not only Pat into
allowing you to act as his agent, but also
negotiate winning athlete endorsement
deals and contracts for him and other athletes. The students in this room
and I are in our graduating year and may need to
negotiate contracts for ourselves as new
graduates or as an attorney. Therefore, my question
for you is: what advice can you provide on
how to prepare before arriving at a
negotiation table or tips for successful
negotiation?>>Well, the first thing
I would tell you is to be fully prepared.
And when I say fully prepared, that doesn’t necessarily mean that
you’re fully aware of all of the material
that is necessary to successfully convince somebody the merits of your case.
It also means you have to know
the personalities involved and you
have to know the environment and the industry. So, it might be sufficient enough
to say, I’ve got a good case, but without recognizing
the whole environment and trends within the industry
that you can refer to. So, if you’re doing something as a marketing
endeavour, for example, on behalf of a client and you want to talk about
a certain aspect of an industry, whether
it be the banking industry and you want
to substantiate your claim and you may
want to make reference to another
segment of the financial sector – the
brokerage business – to support your case.
So, in essence what I’m really saying is
that you need to really be fully prepared,
so that the way you’ll convince the
other side and gain their respect is
conveying to them that you’re really aware
of all of the material. Law school taught
Ralph and I that – that if you’re going to convince anybody, including
somebody on the Supreme Court or
in any kind of arbitration process,
you have to convey to the other side that
you really know what you’re talking about.
Now at that point in time – Secondly, I think if you take a position where
you’re not trying to distort something –
because people will see through that pretty quickly. You want to be honourable,
you want to be noble in relation to your presentation
and not try and fool anybody or distort anybody. I learned long ago
that there’s one way of doing business and
that’s to take the high route, the high road.
If not, people are going to see through it.
It’s a long winding road and it’ll come
back to bite you in the long run. So, in essence, really
be fully prepared. It’s no different – the
work that Ralph does, does litigation work,
appears before panels. I have some friends that I’ve known that are on the
Supreme Court of Canada and they invited me recently to come and watch the
court in session. And I – it’s the first time
I’ve done that and I really enjoyed it.
So if you can consider nine judges on a panel,
on a lectern that’s quite high on a bench and you have counsel that
appears before them and that forum is different than any other forum,
so that if you begin to make your submissions, any one of the nine justices
can cut you short by saying, how do you
rationalize that, what’s your justification
for that, if you say this, how do you
compare it to this? So, they’ll change your train of thought and then
another justice will chime in and do the same thing. So, I think the key,
and again without being redundant, is your
method of preparation. You’ll convince somebody, you’ll gain their respect if
you’re fully prepared. That’s hard work, but
that’s the way to do it.>>That’s the one –
Now, I’ll give you, that’s the number one lesson
I would give is be prepared. And the guys that win
in negotiations are way more prepared
and it’s hard work.>>So, my question was:
as one of the most influential people in
sports media and known to represent
several NHL players, what makes negotiating
contracts for professional athletes
different from standard employment contracts? What are the more
difficult aspects when negotiating the high salary
contracts for sports players?>>They would be
different from other employment contracts simply because of
the industry itself. So, that form of negotiation can take different avenues. So, under our collective
bargaining agreement, if Ralph is the General
Manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs,
we might look at a player like yourself who has rights under the agreement
to the extent that he’s only entitled to
an entry-level contract. Or he might be entitled to arbitration privileges or he might be entitled to
unrestricted free agency. He might be entitled to
Group 6 free agency. So, the route that you take in terms of the negotiation
with Ralph will depend on the rights
of your player in the collective bargaining agreement. If it’s an entry level
contract, we’re pretty much bound
by the limitations that you have on an
entry level contract. So, I can’t get to be
too creative with Ralph on an entry level contract. The moment I have
arbitration rights, I can get a lot more creative and I have leverage to the extent
that if we can’t agree, then we’ll appear before
a neutral arbitrator. Where I really have leverage is when a player has
unrestricted free agency. That’s a whole different aspect of the tone of the
negotiations that we’ll be involved in. So, it really is relevant to
the rights of the player under the CBA.
Other than that, I think I would say that
you not only have to know the nature of the
agreement or the CBA, but you really have to
know the industry. You have to know all
the personalities involved, you have to know the ownership people, you
have to know the media reaction in the city. So, knowing that right
under the CBA is only one aspect of the whole
negotiating process.>>So, you have the reputation
as being a deal maker. You’ve become a clear
leader in your field and we all strive
for your success. As my classmates and
I enter into the legal profession, we
are new to the art of negotiating. If you
could return to your young lawyer self,
is there one key element of negotiation
you wish you had been taught or made
aware of and what are some tactics
you currently use to ensure you are achieving
the best deal for your client?>>The only way that
you get better at the process is
becoming more aware and more experienced. So, with that negotiation
with Eddie Shack, I, with experience,
I would have known how to react to
a guy like Harold Ballard. But I was naive to
the whole process, didn’t really understand
him as a person. So, experience in essence
changes everything. The way I’ve always conducted a negotiation, I think
there’s several elements to it that
have made us successful. One, be honest.
Be honest and transparent, believe
in your client and do the best job you
possibly can, but don’t try and distort it
or be less than transparent. I’ve seen people
come and go in my business that
have succumbed to maybe finding an easy
way out and they don’t last in our business. It’s almost like going
to New York and you watch people in the
diamond district and you watch these people
who’ve done this for forever how long who carry diamonds around and exchange them and everything’s done on a trust basis. And that’s the
same in our industry. If you want to be successful,
you better maintain solid ethics, you better be noble, you better be aggressive,
but nonetheless don’t try anything
underhand or it’ll kill you in the long run
and not only in my business, but in any
business, in litigation. Once there’s a word
out there that you’ve been less than
honourable, you’re done. Then it’s a very short career. So, I think, maintain
those ethics and it’s hard. It’s hard because you can, you have the temptation
of succumbing to doing the wrong thing, but if you maintain that, you’ll
last a long time. And the other aspect of – I think as a young person,
make sure you don’t want to run into a negotiation
by yourself without having worked for somebody and learned the whole aspect of it. You’ll be better suited,
you’ll be better prepared, you’ll be better experienced
to do it on that basis. Because if you, as Ralph said, there are sharks out there like Ralph who’ll eat you
up alive if they sense or know that you really don’t
know the industry or you’re not aware of all
the circumstances. I’m kidding because
he’s a nice man and he wouldn’t do that. But, there are people
in my industry that, who would essentially eat
you up alive and wouldn’t think twice about it.>>How’ve you dealt with,
over the years, there’ve probably been
some incompetent general managers, which
either help you or hurt you and you and I, we know the names. I can tell you, I know a bunch
of general managers. The ones that are good
have been around a long time and they all have
really good things to say about you and yet,
they know that when they negotiate
with you, it is a really tough negotiation. That you represent your
clients, but at the end of the day, you know, they
say, boy this is a professional. They’ll tell me that some of your competitors –
not good negotiation. They’re not honest people. You can’t mention names.
I bet you’ve been with some really lousy GMs that you took to the cleaners
because they didn’t know what they were doing.
Is that correct?>>I’m not sure he’s a better investigative journalist
than he is a lawyer. He’s switching hats here now and I’m on tape so, I know
where you’re going. I think that, you know, listen, there are 31 teams in the National Hockey League.
Some of them are more prepared, some of
them are more knowledgeable, some of them do a better
job than others. That’s just life. But the nature
of our industry now is that everybody is sufficiently prepared. So, a negotiation in the
old days in 1980 or 81 would be between two people –
myself and the manager and that was it. Now it’s changed dramatically. Subject to what your
rights are under the CBA, but a normal negotiation
would involve a team of three from our firm, a manager,
capologist and legal counsel. About six people involved
in most cases.>>How important is analytics today?>>Very, very important. Critical. Every team is seeking
an edge, they’re trying to be better than
their competitors and with parity in our league – The commissioner of our
league wanted parity and I think for good
reason – to allow every team and their
fans to feel that they have a chance to win. So, if you look at the
standings in the National Hockey League today, it’s close. It’s very close, other than
a few teams that are out of it. But in large measure, the teams are so close that we have
parity in the league. So, every team looks for an edge and they want to determine
how can they be selective, how can they choose players that give them an edge,
resulting in analytics. So, this is a statistical analysis of every
player’s performance. It becomes very material in
an arbitration process. In an arbitration process, the arbitrator will say to myself and the representative
from the team, I don’t even know who,
I don’t even know who PK Subban is.
I’m a college professor, I’m a professional arbitrator. I don’t even know
who he is in the room and what you people
have to do is to bring me a statistical
analysis of this player and have
yourselves identify his statistical performance to relevant players in
the league, so that I can determine what
the salary range is. So, we can’t introduce
any periodicals, any reports from newspapers,
sports writers, colleagues in the industry. It’s a very strict set of regulations relating to what you
can introduce into that hearing and
what you can’t, but it is as boring as
you can imagine. It is a dry, four hour
assessment of a statistical analysis of player X. So, it becomes very material
and we have people in our office who do
nothing but every game, take the information
from a player’s performance and
incorporate into his yearly assessment and they do nothing but that.
>>Stephanie Messina.>>Offer sheets are a form of a standard player contract that essentially allows
a team to offer a contract to a restricted
free agent that is currently under a contract
with another team. If the RFA accepts
the offer, the team holding his rights
has seven days to decide if they want
to match the offer or allow the player to sign with the other team that
offered him the contract. They are truly a unique and fascinating form
of contract, yet are rarely seen in the NHL.
We haven’t seen an offer sheet since
Ryan O’Reilly in 2013 and we have not
seen an offer sheet that hasn’t been matched
since Dustin Penner in 2007. With your professional
experience as a sporting agent and
knowledge of contract law, why do you think offer sheets
have been rarely used throughout the NHL’s
history and do you expect this trend to continue?>>It’s a right under our collective bargaining agreement, but you’re absolutely right,
it’s very rarely used. It’s very rarely used
because of the right to match. So, we as players would
say, we think that’s a restrictive measure, doesn’t allow
us free agency, doesn’t allow for
a free flow of the marketplace because
of the right to match. Now, it’s a great idea,
it’s a great idea in that a team might say, I’d like to acquire Ralph Lean
for the Toronto Maple Leafs and if I do that I know what the compensation is that
I have to give over, subject to how much
I want to pay him. So, I want to pay him
eight million dollars, I know that I’ve got to
give up draft picks. Now, a team might
be prepared to do that, but where
they always become skeptical is that the
team that receives that offer sheet – the
Toronto Maple Leafs – can say, well, nice try
Detroit Redwings, but we’re going to
match the offer sheet that you just offered
to our player. Now, we’re really upset that you’ve done this to us
because it upsets our cap scenario.
We’re now paying Ralph way more than what
we wanted to pay him and that hurts our
overall cap scenario, but we’ve matched.
We won’t let you take our player and
furthermore, by the way, next year when
you’re in a similar position when we’re
watching your cap situation, we’re coming after you. So, as a result of that,
you can see why most teams will simply
say, well you know what, it’s not worth our while
because the team is going to match. And, there’s also this
perhaps feeling, if you will, that people speak of collusion to the extent that,
well how come we don’t have offer sheets?
Your question is why aren’t there more
offer sheets? Well, there’s a wink and a nudge amongst everybody
in the league. Why are you going to do that? It just upsets the marketplace. Now that’s just an allegation. I’m sure the league would say, there’s no merit to
that whatsoever.>>Doesn’t the Players
Association say, we got this clause in there, it’s never happening. Next time we negotiate,
we got to do something because we know there’s
a wink and a nudge. Didn’t Burke and Kevin Lowe
get into a ->>Oh yeah, they wouldn’t talk
to each other for years.>>But Lowe signed one of
Burke’s players ->>Yeah, in Anaheim, yeah.
>>Okay, good. We’re going to go to some
cultural issues here. Ashley Jansen. Where’s Ashley?>>Hi, so with more athletes
coming out, how are you as a leader, role model,
negotiator, influencer helping to change
locker room culture to be more accepting of others? Specifically, how do you think this will influence
trans athletes’ path to success and what
steps need to be implemented in
order to make our acceptance of these individuals smoother in a top-down approach?>>The league and the Players Association have been
very progressive, in my view. We have a program
that had been initiated by Brian Burke’s son, Patrick,
who works for the league and Brian’s son, his other son was – died in a car accident and
his son was gay and after Brian lost his son,
his other son initiated a program
through the NHL. There was a coined
program, I forget the terminology, but essentially,
it was yes, you can play. And it was a program
initiated by Patrick, accepted by the league
and the Players Association to the extent that
star players in the National Hockey League made a public service
announcement of saying in effect, yes you can play. You can play with us any time. So, they initiated programs
of that nature. They have a diversity program through the league,
which relates to now, there’s a program that’s
just been announced – a Declaration of Principles – relates to Willie O’Ree,
which was the first black player playing in the National Hockey League, back in the 60s, I think, Ralph. Back in the 60s and Willie
is still involved with the league in that regard. So, I think, quite frankly,
I think they’ve been more progressive than
the other sports. I think the other sports
have come around – basketball more than
football and baseball. But I think our league – and I’m pretty proud of
what our league has done in conjunction with
the Players Association because they’re the two
managing partners. They’ve been pretty
progressive, in my view, what they’ve done to date.>>Kristen Kuliga was, at the
time, the only woman to represent an NFL player and negotiated a 33 million
dollar contract for Doug Flutie with the Chargers, making him the NFL’s highest-paid backup quarterback, yet many of her competitors
referred to her simply as Doug’s girl, which belittled her importance in the industry. In a 2014 New York Times
article, agent Eugene Lee says he believes women
can be successful in the industry,
they just have to get beyond the initial perception. And Kuliga believes it’s
about opportunity. So, my question is,
do you agree with both Lee and Kuliga and
what aspects of the industry must change
so that women are encouraged to work in sports?>>I think it’s changed
dramatically and that now, we in the industry
don’t even think twice about it. As Ralph said, 30, 35
years ago – less than that for goodness sakes –
maybe 10, 15 years ago, we would have thought,
well, goodness, this is an aberration. This is unique that we
have a woman in a very senior position.
Now, we don’t even think twice about it. If you really want
to do it and you’re qualified and you’re
bright and you’re articulate and you work
hard, there’s no reason why you can’t do it.
I mean, I really can’t give you a reason why there aren’t any women who
are certified agents. I don’t think there are any certified agents for
the National Hockey League Players Association. First of all, there aren’t that
many of us to begin with. I mean, most people
think, for example, what I do is somewhat easy. I sit around in my office
and I negotiate contracts. Well, that’s really
not what I do. So, forget whether
you’re young, old, a man or a woman.
If you said to me, can I follow you around
and see what you do within the space of
two weeks, whether I’d like to do what you do. So, for example, for the
next two weeks, I’m going to go to Saskatoon,
Moose Jaw, Kelowna, Portland and then I’m
going to Korea for the Olympics. Then when I come back,
I’ll be on a tour of Los Angeles, Las Vegas,
San Jose and I think Bakersfield. I thought this is all we
had to do for the first two weeks. Not really. We have to do it again and
then we have to do it again and then we have to do it again. And this isn’t checking in
at nine and leaving at five. So, somewhere, somehow people have responsibilities, they
have relationships. And it isn’t easy.
So, I’m not trying to avoid the question
that you’ve asked because it’s a terrific
question, but if I get down to brass
tacks, I’ll have people that will come and intern for us a year and then and they’re gone.>>Any females?
>>No.>>Have any applied?
>>No, no. So, what I do is not
necessarily easy. If anybody applies and
they’re bright and they’re hard-working
and they’re articulate, I don’t care where they
come from or what they do, they’ll intern
with me for a year and if they’re good,
we’ll keep them. So, in large measure,
people can’t keep up. People can’t keep up
to what we do and there are those people
that I will say, look, you’re a good person
and I understand that you have a
boyfriend or you have a wife and they’re
not really on side with this. I get it. I understand that. But to do what we do,
being involved in a sport – we have 31 professional
teams and if you’re going to be good at it, your
players want to see you. They want to see you, they
want to talk to you. You have to be available. You have to be on call.
The worst thing in the world is this,
which means they want instant reaction,
they want instant responses and they need you. So, there’ll be times
when I’ll go out with Ralph for dinner
and I get to be a total pain in the ass
because I’m not even there half the time
because that doesn’t stop ringing. Or, for example, when
the scores come in from the West coast, we’re
getting scores at 1:30 in the evening through
a software company. That means players
have just finished playing and you need
to be aware of what they did. So, if you want to be really good at it, you’re
up till that hour texting them, saying, what
you did tonight was terrific. So, what I do maybe explains in some measure the
relevance of your question. It’s not for everybody. Now, if I had – and our
preference is for people that have postgraduate degrees. If you have a degree
in law or if you have a degree as an MBA, you’ll get
an audience with me. I don’t care where
you come from, I don’t care what law
school you went to, I don’t care what MBA
program you took. You’ll have an interview
with me and if you want to work
hard, you’ll find a place in our firm, but I haven’t really had any applications
from females to become certified agents within the
National Hockey League.>>Hello Mr. Meehan.
You are one of the most respected sports
lawyers in Canada and have represented
some of the top hockey players in the NHL.
One of the people you acted as an agent
for is Pat LaFontaine – Hockey Hall of Famer
and superstar. Unfortunately, his career ended when he was tackled
by another player on ice and suffered a concussion. I’m sure you’ve seen many
other horrible injuries coming from such
a high contact sport such as hockey. What, if anything, should
be done to prevent athlete injuries that
are life-threatening? Do you think that this
is something that can be solved with legislation
or do you think that this is something that
should be solved through internal team policies?>>Well, that’s a really,
really good question, in that we struggle with
that in our game today. We’ve come a long ways. In my view, we’re not there yet. And I say that without
denigrating the league’s efforts
to allow for better player safety, but
we’re not there yet. And I played football
for McGill in my last year of law school
and I broke my leg. And I remember the
doctors – I said to the doctor, how soon
before I get back? He said, well, I think
you’re out for the year. So, being young, you
never really expect, you never want to accept that. And I said, will I be
okay to play next year and he said, sure, but
he told me one thing that I remember back in 1974, like that doctor was sitting
right in front of me now. He said, but when you get
older, you’re going to have arthritis in your leg. And I thought, get older?
What am I worried about that now for?
I’m 24, who thinks about getting older?
Well, guess what? I’m older and I’ve got
arthritis in my leg now. So, for players in my industry today, when
you talk to them about player safety,
it doesn’t resonate all that well. They’re not thinking about that. They’re not thinking
about that, but your question is so well taken
because one of my colleagues and
friends is Ken Dryden and he wrote a book
recently called Game Changer and
he basically is challenging Gary Bettman,
who is the Commissioner of the National Hockey League, to accept some change, to develop more time and research
to change some rules into allowing for better
player safety. I think he’s dead on.
He’s dead on because the audience
that we speak to – like I’m speaking
to all of you and you’re all so young
and I’m thinking, my goodness, Ralph,
do they realize what’s ahead and what we
could convey to them? But younger people
are such that you’re not really
worried about what happens when you’re 55 or 60. But Ken Dryden in his
book makes a very, very valuable point.
He wants players who’ve played in the
National Hockey League to be good grandparents,
to be a good grandfather and be able to communicate with his grandkids without any issue of dementia
or Parkinson’s disease through brain trauma. He wants hockey players
to be good husbands and not to leave their
wives in a position whereby they can’t
communicate properly. If I could change the
world in some respect, I’d ask players to be
that much more aware and that cognizant
of player safety. And even through our
Players Association, there are more important issues. Collective bargaining issues, free agency issues, hockey-related revenue,
the distribution of hockey-related revenue. Those issues become
more relevant and more important, not
to everybody, but we have to place a
greater emphasis on player safety in the game today. Pat LaFontaine was a client of mine. The rules were different.
What happened to him was a travesty. Head shots were permitted.
They weren’t penalized. Mario Lemieux, one of the
greatest players of our generation basically said,
at one point in time, unless you change the rules, I’m going to leave the game. Now, they did change the rules,
but are we at the point really where I’m satisfied in
terms of player safety? No, but we’ve made great strides. we’re just not there yet,
the perfect situation. And there are people
in the league who will say and Brian Burke, who’s
a good friend of ours who’ll say in effect,
the moment you agree to play, you
have to accept inherent risk that
you could get hurt because that’s part
of our game. And I’m not saying
Brian is wrong. I think he is wrong,
but Brian has a valid point of view. My point of view is
I’m more concerned about player safety.
I think we can be better.>>We live in a society that
values instantaneous connection and our
entertainment industries are shifting to attract consumers accordingly,
particularly in the area of video games and eSports,
such as FIFA Interactive World Cup organized by
FIFA and EA Sports and the NBA 2K League
organized by the NBA and Take Two Interactive. These have been well
received and continue to gain popularity worldwide. Recently, the International
Olympic Committee has been a debate on the matter of
including these eSports as potential Olympic competitions
in the near future. In a statement released by the IOC regarding a recent
summit in Switzerland, it was stated that
the summit agreed that eSports are showing
strong growth, especially within
youth demographic across different countries and can provide a platform
for engagement with the Olympic movement. It was also stated that
competitive eSports could be considered as a
sporting activity and that players involved
prepare and train with an intensity which may be comparable to athletes in
the traditional sports. So, my question to you is:
in your opinion, do you believe that the eSports
movement to inclusion within the Olympics will
become a reality and how will this change
sports competitions and how will major professional
sports leagues respond?>>I think it will. I think it will for one basic reason: money. So, the IOC now has
difficulty in relation to obtaining bids
from cities given the cost of what governments have to
contribute to make an Olympic team successful. So, I think in that aspect
alone, any other source of revenue would be
beneficial to their cause. Secondly, it allows
everybody to participate. Everybody can participate, which should be
really part of the Olympic spirit. Any business, any organization that’s not subject to
change is in trouble. I think the primary reason
is money, though, is money because I think
and I haven’t followed it that closely, but in
relation to recent IOC bids, they’re having
trouble generating cities that will mount a bid to be competitive with certain cities. Just because of the costs involved.>>So, my question is
sort of threefold. As an agent, part of your services, part of the services that
you offer include providing clients with substantial
additional income through endorsement deals. In your opinion, why is
there such a huge discrepancy in the
endorsement revenue of NHL players compared
with other major North American sports?
Is there something that other sport leagues
or agencies are doing better and is
this indicative of the future growth of the sport?>>I think because of in essence – television revenue and exposure. So, the NFL television deal
is the granddaddy of them all. It’s exposure at its best. As a result of that, with
that kind of exposure, then the athletes
are better exposed. Hockey in large measure
is still a regional sport. And I think in essence,
that’s the major reason. We’re classified as a
regional sport so, you can’t – I mean, you can’t really go
down to Alabama or Georgia and, you know, there’s
basketball court, there’s basketball
courts everywhere. There’s baseball fields
everywhere, there’s football fields everywhere. You’re not going to find rinks down in Alabama or Georgia
or in large measures of the country, which make it
a regionalized sport. Now, we’re trying to
make that better. We’re trying to improve, but our television revenue compared to the other sports is –
pales by comparison.>>There’s a scholarly journal that states that the NFLPA receives hundreds of complaints
regarding agent misconduct every year.
Despite the staggering number of complaints,
only 33 disciplinary proceedings were initiated regarding agent misconduct
over a seven year period. In fact, it’s argued that
many of the NFLPA regulations are not
enforceable due to weak regulatory language and athletes’ fair right to
fair representation is compromised as a result.
In light of this evidence, would you consider advocating for more stringent regulations for sports agents to
abide by and if not, what other course of
action would you suggest in order to
decrease the chances of agent misconduct?
Thank you.>>Well, they need to be better. They need to be a lot better
because the issues of misconduct in basketball and football have been notorious. They need to have
better regulations. The distinction between our
sport and their sports may be because of the
money involved, but we don’t have
anywhere near – but we’re a smaller sport,
so they’re in essence – there are three major
agencies that really control the
bulk of players in the National Hockey League. So, you’ve got a very small
group of people in large measure controlling the industry. And for those three firms,
we’ve been around a long time and we really
don’t have any issues of misconduct. So, it sets a tone,
it sets a message for the rest of the industry. In addition, I’m a lawyer,
so I’m still governed by the rules and regulations of the
Law Society of Upper Canada. What are we referred to as now? Law Society of Ontario now.
Yeah, so, that’s changed. But we’re bound by that as well. You know what, in essence, the stories that you
hear in basketball and football, they’re alarming. They’re notorious. They
really need to be better and yet I would say
this to you, as well. In large measure,
when there are those issues of misconduct, I say and I say it very boldly,
the people, the athletes or the families who make
those decisions – you need to be accountable. You need to be accountable
for some of the decisions that you’ve made by retaining
some of these characters. You need to have
your head read. What were you thinking? What were you possibly thinking? So, you’re accountable, as well. So, you either have the choice
of doing your homework and finding out, for example,
do I retain somebody that’s been in the business
for 25 or 30 years, has experience, has presence
in the industry doesn’t have any issues
of misconduct? That’s a safe route. Why would I be choosing somebody that has no experience
or may have some issues of misconduct
or some complaints?>>Well first off, I’d like to
congratulate you on your success. As you stated in the National Post, that you have paid
your price and that you’re, in regards to that,
you’re very courageous for that. Now, there’s no doubt that you do a lot of
negotiation and a lot of negotiation has
taken place, especially for a lot of your clients,
if not all, in good faith and undertake much duties, such as duties to
disclose information. And that might impede
or compromise your position as an agent to
represent your client. Now, in connection with last week’s reading,
there was a topic of concurrent conflict
of interests, which is commonly referred
to where the agents represent more than
one athlete during the negotiation process and this conflict is magnified in
leagues at which there’s salary caps. Now, there was two
striking arguments – one being, well, I probably
believe that I can provide competent
representation for the affected clients. As well as the other
side being, there’s no such conflict as
the athlete’s value is determined by the market. Now, given those two
arguments, what is your position and your reasoning?>>If I represent – and we often do. We often do. We represent more than one player
on one team. If I get to the point, as it – Again, now, the potential
for conflict is so remote and I’ll tell you why. If I’m representing a
player that has limited rights under
an entry-level contract, that’s totally distinct from a player that might have
free agency rights – unrestricted free agency. Might be totally different
from a player who has arbitration rights. But let’s say I get to a point
where I represent two players – same position, same age, unrestricted at the same time. That very rarely
happens, but if it does, I say to both athletes,
you’re both available in the open market. Very rarely are they the
same type of player. One might be an offensive
centre iceman, one might be a centre iceman that
really plays 200 feet both ways, but again,
if they’re exactly the same, then I would say to them, look, you’re both available
in the open market. If you see there’s
any kind of conflict, I’ll recuse myself. I don’t think there will be
based on the circumstances, but it’s better served
for me to warn them by saying, if you’re
identical in every respect and there’s
a potential of conflict, I’m going to tell you that there’s the potential
and you decide. And in most cases,
these players have been with me for years and they’ll have a pretty good
indication of my judgment value, my presence in the
industry, my ethics. It’ll be up to them
to make a decision, but I have to say,
within our system, in our CBA, the potential
for conflict is just so remote that very rarely – I really can’t remember sitting back,
having something at the same time for
the same people, identical players, identical age, identical set of circumstances. And if that happened
and there was one team that wanted both of them, I would say, I’m not making
this decision, the team’s making the decision. I’m going to be an
advocate for you, but I really can’t convince
the team what to do. They’ve got to make that
decision of who they want. And I really can’t tell
them who to take because if I said, you
really should take John as opposed to
Paul and John doesn’t work out, they’ll say
to me, you sold us a bill of goods, this guy
couldn’t play. They have to be the
determining factor. So, it’s my obligation
to convey all the relevant analytics
and statistics to tell them why this
is an enviable player, but I don’t think there’s a perfect world whereby
you could say, I’m totally devoid
of conflict here. There’s some measure
of it, but it’s so remote. And specifically,
with players under our CBA that all have
different rights, different positions.>>Okay, I always finish the class and I say to the students, has anybody got a
really good question that didn’t get asked or
something’s come out. Now, there’s pressure
because your classmates if they don’t like that,
they boo you. They boo you, so you’ve got
to be a confident individual that this is a really,
really good question. So, does anyone think
they have a really, really good question?>>So, you were saying
that there was a lot of unethical actions going on
with sports agents in other leagues like NBA, NFL
and I noticed that you only manage
clients in the NHL. Going forward in
the future, are you considering expanding
into those leagues or is that an option that
hasn’t crossed your mind?>>It’s a good question.
When I first started, I felt if we were going to be successful, we had
to manage one sport and be very good at it. And to be really good at it,
you need to know all the personalities, you need
to be everywhere, you need to know every
amateur league, you need to know every
professional league and that is all-consuming
in itself. There isn’t any time for anything
else if you’re good at it. To cross over, to cross
over, in my view, is just too taxing and
I don’t want to be in a position to
say to a client, you know what, I’m at a
Raptors game tonight and I’m tied up in something
in that industry. He might say, is your focus
really on on our game? I didn’t want to
present that and what we’ve
been able to do, I’d like to say that we’re the best at what we do in our
industry and that’s what our objective was
when we first started.>>Hello Mr. Meehan.
So, last year when you were here, someone asked a question saying that
you had mentioned at the fourth annual
Toronto Sports Management Conference
that negotiation is about 5 percent of what
you do and 95 percent is other stuff and in that answer, you also mentioned that you frequently deal with
players between 14 and 18 and you can’t
actually sign them in that time period or
even for a few years after that, their salary
is capped at a certain amount. So, I was wondering how you mitigate the
risk of investing in those players in
those ages and not having them convert
into a signed client.>>The business model has
changed dramatically. When I first started in 1980,
I would recruit players that were 17 the year of
their draft year by turning 18. Today, it’s much more different. The competition, in effect,
forces any firm to be competitive for great
players at the age of 14 or 15. Now, I’m
going to do the math for you for a second.
If you’re business-orientated and think, how will this
business pay off? If you’re approaching
somebody at 15, he won’t be drafted
for three years. So, you have a measure of commitment to that player for three years,
if he’s good enough. If he’s good enough, he’ll play at 18.
He’s then on an entry-level contract
for three years. That’s assuming he
plays in his first year. Most don’t, they’ll play
in the second year. So, now you’re in
for seven years. The entry-level contract is restricted to the
extent that for – let’s say for discussion
purposes, you’re going to make a million dollars a year. That’s if you’re playing
in the NHL as opposed to being in the minors.
If you’re in the minors, it’s 70,000. So, a firm our size
in essence would say, for seven years, we’re really not making any money. You hope the player’s
good enough then to do a bridge deal or
a longer term contract where the money kicks in. So, if you went to the
bank and you told them, I have a business plan. I want to become an NHL agent. And the bank would
say to you, great. Do you have any clients? No, not really, but
I’m going to work on it. Well, if you’re going
to work on it, how long is it going to take? You’d say, seven years. It’d be a short meeting in the bank. You would be out the door. So the model has changed
to the extent now where you can’t function
on that basis anymore. So, you have to either
have unlimited funds if you want to do that. You’ve got to say to
your mum and dad, are you going to support
me for seven years while I have a staff and
I travel and I build a business? So, today it’s much
more competitive. So, as I said to you earlier on in the discussion,
if you’re good in our industry, if anybody
is good at the age of 15 in the world and
they’re real good, then we’ll be there. So, this year in the
NHL draft, there’s a player that if you’re following hockey, he’s a generational player. He’ll be drafted first overall. His name’s Rasmus Dahlin
from Sweden. We represent him.
Now, he’s a generational player, he’s that good. I met him when he was 16.>>What are you going to
do to get him in Toronto?>>Well, Toronto’s going
to make the playoffs so they won’t have a part in the lottery, you see.
So, the worst teams in the league, for
those of you don’t follow hockey, the
worst teams that don’t make the playoffs –
there’s 15 of them. They’ll have a lottery system, so these balls will drop
in a, like, a bingo parlor and whoever wins the lottery gets to pick a generational player. So, Toronto would do
anything in the world to get this guy, but they’re
a playoff team so, they can’t participate
in the lottery.>>On behalf of Ryerson,
Ted Rogers School, we have a little
gift for you and thank you very much for coming.
>>Thank you. [Applause]

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