The Great Sport of Entrepreneurship

Being a huge sports fan and a corporate law geek, I have truly enjoyed the attention garnered by the Green Bay Packers’ ownership structure in the build up to the Super Bowl (see, e.g., here). The success of the Packers’ non-profit, fan-owner structure raises several interesting questions (see here). That structure also is a refreshing departure from the commercialization of the sports industry generally.

Nevertheless, the Packers’ appearance in Super Bowl XLV also highlights opportunity for innovation and small business profit in the sports context. Indeed, the infamous cheesehead hats were created by a Wisconsin sports fan on his way to a Brewers’ game (see here). Talk about innovation—he apparently ripped the foam from his couch and painted it orange. Before he knew it, he owned and operated a small foam-manufacturing company that caters to Wisconsin sports fans’ every need.

Interestingly, the cheesehead hat entrepreneur is not alone. There is an entire cottage industry of sports entrepreneurs who seek to profit from the loyalty of sports fans everywhere (see, e.g., here and here). And these are not just the high-profile athletes turned entrepreneurs. These are ordinary people with unique or innovative ideas. Take those sports entrepreneurs who are operating online sports stock exchanges (see, e.g., here). I suspect that Aaron Rodgers’ stock price is at an all-time high at the moment.

As I read these and other interesting and often successful stories of innovation and entrepreneurship, I have to wonder what makes these people different from lawyers. Commentators often suggest that lawyers lack an entrepreneurial spirit; some even suggest that this perceived flaw stifles innovation and has caused some of the legal profession’s current problems (see here; but see here and here). I do not think you can generalize about the profession, but certainly many lawyers’ risk-averse nature, discomfort with uncertainty and fear of failure run counter to typical entrepreneurial traits (see here).  (To gauge if you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur, see here.)

So do lawyers need to be entrepreneurs?  (For stories of lawyers turned entrepreneurs, see here and here.) I actually think that, for the most part, lawyers just need a better understanding of basic business and management concepts. In fact, that which makes a good entrepreneur may not necessarily make a good legal adviser. And being more of a lawyer than an entrepreneur, I will not be purchasing stock in any NFL players or speculating about the winner of Sunday’s game. But being a Cleveland Browns fan, I will be rooting for those innovative cheeseheads.

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6 Responses

  1. Wow, a Cleveland Browns fan! When I was much younger, two of my favorite football players were Browns: first, Jim Brown and then Leroy Kelly.

    And while I like both the Steelers and the Packers, the fan-owner structure of the latter finds the scale tilted in their favor.

    An op-ed in today’s LA Times is on the mark: “L.A. should follow the cheeseheads” (regarding a possible NFL franchise)
    See:
    http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-neubauer-greenbay-20110204,0,1060126.story

  2. Michelle Harner says:

    Patrick: Thank you for the comment. Jim Brown also is one of my favorites, and he has been such a big part of the Browns’ organization, at least up until this past season (see link below). But my best memories are of Brian Sipes and the Kardiac Kids and then of course some of the seasons with Bernie Kosar at the helm. In any event, I also have attached below a link listing several community-owned sports teams; I think it is a pretty comprehensive list. Best regards, Michelle.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=5513781

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fan-owned_sports_teams

  3. Thanks for the links Michelle.

    I knew about community-owned teams in England, but I had no idea how fairly widespread such a phenomenon is.

  4. John Culhane says:

    Yet it’s hard to ignore the mounting pile of evidence about the long-term neurological damage that players suffer. I speculated about soon-to-be-filed lawsuits here:
    http://www.slate.com/id/2283618/

    Does this have any effect on fans’ enjoyment? (I’m asking as a non-fan.)

    And what about the proposal to add two games to each season?

    Sorry to be such a killjoy…

  5. I assume this is something that will be addressed, separately and in collective bargaining, by both the NFL and the NFL Players’ Association, although I’ve not read all the evidence, just second-hand reports thereof. The League has changed some rules regarding tackling and hits that directly involve the head/helmet, presumably this is a first step. And does not the evidence apply to head trauma over a long time generally? In which case this even goes beyond the NFL and reaches down into youth sports programs.

    I confess: I’ll still watch and probably enjoy the game. But I’m (naively) hopeful that players, in the first instance, and League decision-makers as well, are motivated by self-interest to do something about this.

  6. Michelle Harner says:

    John:

    You raise valid concerns, which also impact players in the high school and college ranks and other sports. I do not think we should ignore the problem, but like Patrick, I continue to hope that those involved in the various organizations will do the right thing. Also, this may perhaps be yet another reason to root for the Packers, even if you are a non-fan (see the NY Times article below).

    Thanks for the comment.

    Best regards, Michelle.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/04/sports/football/04rodgers.html