A Quick Rundown of SFIA’s Business & Risk Management Summit

That’s a wrap! The SFIA’s newly-merged event, the Business & Risk Management Summit, was a huge success in Indianapolis this week.

The two-day event was filled with insightful discussion, ranging from issues regarding the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to sports tech innovation to legal obstacles of marketing & advertising, and so much more. Industry leaders from Dick’s Sporting Goods, Wilson, Easton and many others joined legal experts on panels to delve into the deeper, more complex issues that sports and fitness companies are facing on a daily basis. The relationship between these two industries is strongly-dependent, and the summit provided an ideal environment for both lawyers and corporate figures to explore and find new opportunities provided by one another.

One attendee, Kevin Mayer (Partner, Crowell & Moring LLP), explained, “This is an extraordinarily important opportunity for representatives of the industry to get together in an environment, in which common ideals, common purposes are being expressed — Where representatives of these companies can learn about the legal, business, risk management issues that these companies face. And together work collectively going forward to enhance the position of this industry in enabling both youth and adult athletes to continue to prosper in our country.”

Tech remains driving factor behind rapidly changing sports & fitness industry, and consumer behavior

Whether it’s improving product safety or more accurately (and thoroughly) calculating data, the addition of technology to numerous products is becoming more and more prevalent. This is changing the game for athletes, as well as brands trying to keep up with the industry and consumer-demand. However, while better technology continues to emerge and be implemented in products, the legal issues continue to rise. Now, sports & fitness companies are forced to deal with new problems, which were nearly irrelevant to the industry in years prior. Companies’ need for counsel is now crucial, as they are handling issues regarding data capture and identity protection. As Michael Wall (Of Counsel, Foley & Lardner LLP) noted in the discussion, “What Keeps You Up at Night? Product Development & Innovation,” it is important that lawyers are involved from the very first steps of product development and innovation to ensure that the future product is not at risk of facing any penalties, and all the way through to the final steps of marketing & advertising to protect the brand from false claims and to protect its intellectual property.

Deeper pockets mean greater risk

Former CPSC Commissioner, Joseph Mohorovic, kicked off the conference with exclusive insight gained from working for the CPSC for several years. Companies, now forced to focus on all legal obstacles for every product, must be aware and prepared for all consequences, as they are becoming more and more severe. Mohorovic noted the historic $27 million penalty recently delivered to Polaris for defective recreational vehicles. It is important to note — All companies in the sports & fitness industry are subject to the exact same standards and vulnerable to similar consequences. While the exact process the CPSC follows is ambiguous, Mohorovic made it clear that the agency is more likely to go after those with more money, and advised the audience, “When in doubt: To report or not report, I say report and be prepared to fight.”

Safety is the ultimate priority

Throughout the two-day summit, safety issues were brought up constantly. Kevin Mayer (Partner, Crowell & Moring LLP) thoroughly covered all relevant aspects of Prop 65, Roland LaRose (Vice President & General Manager Lacrosse, Maverik Lacrosse) and Shawn Springs (CEO, Windpact Technologies) built entire brands off of improving product safety in helmets, Shellie Pfohl (CEO, US Center for SafeSport) introduced her organization’s prime focus of better protecting young athletes and the entire rules conference (on Day 2) addressed numerous rule changes — all of which were essentially made with the purpose to make the game safer.

The industry must evolve with the times

As leagues and brands are constantly facing new challenges, a dominant message throughout the conference was: To best prepare yourself for success in the future, you must evolve and adapt to the changing times. USA Football CEO, Scott Hallenbeck, and American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) CEO, Mike Hoyer, discussed their approaches to growing their individual sports (Football & Soccer) on the panel, “Risks to Future of Sport — How Are Leading Sport Organizations Responding?” While many external factors continue to impact sports participation, it is important that industry leaders react and respond by altering the game (or product), creating more opportunities and providing new pathways for young athletes. As Tom Cove, SFIA CEO & President, noted in the panel and his “Industry Update,” it all starts with the youth. If we can encourage young people to become active and participate in the sports and fitness world, everyone will benefit.

Overall, attendees of all backgrounds seemed to feel that they had gained a new, or greater, understanding of what’s to come for their company or best practices to use in the future. The revamped, newly-merged event was well-received, and as Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Gared, Laura St. George, stated, “This was a nice, open discussion format and was very relevant to our business today. It took the pressure off the legalities of it all, and it definitely gave me tools to take back to our board of directors, and will change the way we do business.”