Interview with Michelle Skalrud, Excel Sports Management Counsel - On the Field: Women in Sports Law
By Tatum Wheeler • January 30, 2019•Ms. JD, Careers, Issues, Sexism, Sexual Harassment, and Other Forms of Discrimination, Women and Law in the Media
Please welcome Michelle Skalrud, Contracts Counsel at Excel Sports Management. In addition to earning her J.D. from New York Law School in 2015, Michelle earned a Master of Science in Sports Management from Columbia University. Michelle previously worked at Creative Artists Agency and served as a Legal Intern at the Brooklyn Nets, NBA Coaches Association, and Cuttita LLP.
Thank you so much for your time, Michelle Skalrud. Let’s get started! I’d be delighted if you could walk us through your typical day as Contracts Counsel at Excel Sports Management. Has the nature of your work changed in this position from your previous position as an Independent Contractor at Excel?
Michelle: Prior to working full-time at Excel, I was finishing my master’s degree while working as an independent contractor. As an independent contractor I was afforded an opportunity to learn the day-to-day operation of Excel, and familiarized myself with the inner workings of the legal team. Every day is different here. My primary role at Excel is to manage marketing agreements across our talent divisions (basketball, baseball, golf and talent marketing), from full-blown endorsement agreements for our clients to simple social media activations – we read every line of every agreement that comes through for our clients. The interesting part about the legal team is that we get the opportunity to work very closely with everyone in the office and touch different facets of the industry every day.
What attracted you to pursue Columbia University’s Sports Management M.S. program after you finished your J.D.? In what ways does your education influence your day-to-day legal work?
Michelle: Law school doesn’t afford students the opportunity to select a “major,” such as sports law. While you can take prerequisite classes (such as labor and employment, intellectual property or even a sports law course) to help you grow and succeed as a lawyer in general, I knew that I had to learn more about the academics of the sports industry outside of law. The Columbia program allowed me to learn about how sports facilities operate, the best way to negotiate a naming rights deal and even how and why the television ratings for the NFL are dwindling – all topics that are not covered in law school but very applicable to the business of sports. It might not necessarily be useful in my day-to-day legal work at Excel but it allows me to see the bigger picture of how the business works.
During law school, you had prestigious legal internships with the Brooklyn Nets, NBA Coaches Association, and Cuttita LLP. What advice do you have for those looking for internships similar to these? What skills can current law school students hone to make themselves more competitive for these positions?
Michelle: Network, network, network. I came into this industry without a single relevant contact. I made it a point to attend conferences, receptions and any other opportunity to meet people in this industry – once you meet one person, you will have a rolodex of contacts (I highly suggest reaching out to your undergraduate alumni network). For current law students it’s important to get involved, whether internally through law school clubs (most law schools have Entertainment or Sports Law clubs) or to join the Sports Lawyers Association, a worldwide organization for sports lawyers. Also, WISE (Women in Sports and Events) is a great network of women in the industry.
What do you think the value of sports law is, and has your opinion evolved since you first began your legal education?
Michelle: You will hear many people say that there is no such thing as “sports law.” Sports law is a combination of intellectual property, contract law, antitrust, labor and employment and many other areas of law all mixed together. The product may always be the same or similar but the subject matter surrounding that product will always be different.
The 2018-2019 season has been seminal for women in sports, including the first female officiants in an NFL playoff game and the NBA’s first female assistant general manager. What changes would you like to see in sports in 2019?
Michelle: Those are two very great milestones for women in sports. I think it is vital for more women to be positioned in the front offices of many of these teams, leagues and agencies. I also believe what many leagues and teams are currently doing by bringing their sport internationally is very integral to the success of sports, in general.
Thank you so much for your time and insight, Michelle!
Tatum Wheeler is a first-year law student at UC Irvine. When she’s not studying, she spends her free time exploring the coastline, connecting with friends and family, and cheering on her favorite sports teams. Please feel free to contact her with any questions, comments, or further advice.