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The calendar for the Friday field trip this week indicated that there would be a presentation from Kari Cohen, a member of the Brooklyn Nets’ legal team. While a few members of the group were genuinely curious to hear about the legal aspect of a team’s operation, some others were dubious as to what they had to gain from hearing from lawyers when they had no intention of entering into the legal realm. Upon arrival at Metrotech Center in Brooklyn, however, the group was given a pleasant surprise. Rather than hearing only from Cohen, four speakers from four different departments working with the Nets and the Barclays Center spoke and provided insight into their respective jobs.
First up was Tyrell Kirkham, the Senior Director of Merchandising, who regaled the group with tales regarding the struggles that the New Jersey Nets had in establishing any sort of market share in the merchandise space. Particularly notable was the factoid that the Nets finished 31st in merchandise sales one particular season, behind all 29 other teams, as well as the now defunct Seattle Supersonics.
Following Kirkham was Mandy Guttman, who as Communications Manager handles the Nets’ and Barclays Center’s public relations. Central to her position is ensuring that positive press coverage surrounds the team, and that negative circumstances are covered in such a way as to mitigate the damage as presented to the public. To do so, Guttman maintains a contact list of thousands of individuals in the journalism industry, and strategically leaks nuggets of information to those most likely to present the given story in a manner favoring the team, depending on the nature of the story and its subject matter.
After hearing about merchandising and public relations for the first time this summer, the group was introduced to Jeff Lesser, an account executive in the partnership sales department, with which the group was far more familiar. He announced that he had just completed a deal selling the rights to advertise on Barclays Center’s apron for Nets games, upon which the NBA had previously forbidden signage. Lesser outlined the different techniques that go into attempting to sell sponsorship agreements to companies for different events, be it the Nets, a concert, or a game for the incoming New York Islanders of the NHL. He emphasized that while the move from New Jersey, for the Nets, or Long Island, for the Islanders, meant that the franchises would be geographically displaced from their fan bases, companies will still occasionally work to target these fans through the teams.
Finally, Kari Cohen spoke about her career experiences that led her to becoming one of three members of the Legal and Business Affairs team with the Nets and Barclays Center. A graduate of Cardozo Law School in New York, Cohen’s path into sports was rather typical of many attorneys. Having worked at the National Hockey League as an intern in law school and decided that she wished to pursue a career as a lawyer working for a team or a league, she emerged post graduation working for a firm. From there, she leveraged her connections to make the lateral move from being an associate at Hughes, Hubbard & Reed to working under the Chief Legal Officer of the Nets, Jeff Gewirtz. Being in the legal department of a team requires her to be a jack of all trades, and Cohen stressed that it is not necessarily proficiency at any particular law school class that led to her success, but rather her proclivity for new challenges and her willingness to learn while immersed in something new, regardless of whether she had any particular expertise in the subject matter. In her position, it is more important to have a working knowledge of all relevant facets of law, while seeking outside help from law firms when issues arise.