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Whether it’s the Timberwolves in Minneapolis, the Yankees in New York or college football powerhouses in Miami and Oklahoma, law firms pony up the money for season tickets. Why? Because these coveted tickets can build rapport with clients and can also help firm morale — plus, let’s be honest, lawyers are big sports fans. “Lawyers love competition,” says consultant Andy Havens of Sanestorm Marketing in Columbus, Ohio. “There’s always a winner and a loser in court.” For Clifford Greene, his excitement starts even before the pro basketball season begins. His firm, Greene Espel — an 18-attorney litigation shop in Minneapolis — conducts an annual pre-season lottery for the firm’s season tickets to the Timberwolves games. “The [lottery] is a social event at the beginning of the season where we meet at a pub,” Greene says. “It’s a fun bonding experience.” At stake are pairs of $95 tickets in the 15th row behind the visitor’s bench. Tickets to sporting events are hardly a male-only attraction. One-third of Greene Espel’s attorneys are women who enjoy taking their families or clients to Timberwolves or Lynx — women’s pro basketball — games. Even though Greene brought the Timberwolves season tickets to the firm he co-founded in 1993, he has never pulled rank when it comes to cherry-picking games to see visiting superstars like LeBron James, Michael Jordan or even his boyhood heroes, the Boston Celtics. By contrast, there is something of a pecking order for New York Yankees tickets at 46-attorney Lindabury, McCormick & Estabrook of Westfield, N.J. Opening day hasn’t been an issue because the attorney who originally obtained the season tickets for the firm takes them, explains Michael Harrison, Lindabury’s director of business development, who acts as the firm’s ticket broker. But the firm has tickets to 80 other Yankees games to sort out, including those for the highly desirable Red Sox and Mets games, for which certain partners have standing orders. Over the course of the season, Harrison spends an average of one hour per week dealing with the firm’s four sets of Yankees season tickets. The demand for the $85 seats (between first base and home plate on the lower level) is so high that they rarely go unused. The Yankees regular-season tickets go primarily to partners who take clients, sometimes they’re given directly to clients and occasionally to a staffer as a pat on the back, explains Harrison. During the baseball playoffs and World Series, Harrison spends much more time dealing with Yankees tickets. In fact, for the 2001 World Series, the firm didn’t have enough tickets to meet the promises partners had made to clients. So Harrison purchased some choice seats from a ticket broker — for twice their face value — a detail that wasn’t shared with the client. ARE SEASON TICKETS FOR SPORTING EVENTS A GOOD INVESTMENT? “You are getting a huge bang for your marketing buck,” says Greene Espel lawyer Lawrence Shapiro, who had his own Timberwolves tickets before he joined the firm. “When you can combine marketing with something you enjoy, with people you enjoy, you’re winning on all fronts.” Shapiro has clients from Texas, California and New York who schedule annual trips to Minneapolis to see him and their hometown NBA teams play the Wolves. He also uses basketball outings, usually coupled with a pre-game dinner, to try to create synergy between his clients who haven’t met before. He enjoys talking with clients in a non-stressful setting when the meter isn’t running. “There’s no question that the clock’s off and you talk freely and you get to know each other better,” Shapiro says. Often the topic is aspects of the client’s business with which Shapiro isn’t familiar. “He knows us as individuals, not just as clients,” says Keith Phillips, CFO of Lupient Automotive Group, who joined two of his associates and Shapiro for their annual Wolves outing in February. “The game is not the reason we go out with Larry,” continues Phillips, adding that he has access to season tickets (not as close to the court) through his own firm. “It’s more the friendship and getting together.” “It’s moments like this,” Terry Siede, president of Midwest Maintenance & Mechanical construction company, said at a pre-game gathering at a downtown Minneapolis watering hole, “that help with the stressful moments because we can read each other.” When asked about the investment value of season tickets, Lindabury’s Harrison says he’d have to do a formal study. But his instincts and anecdotal evidence suggest that the baseball outings are beneficial. “Our attorneys feel that it helps with the relationships that they have [with clients]. … When the attorney doesn’t [accompany the client to the game,] it’s a way of thanking people for business and encouraging them to feel comfortable with the firm.” Lindabury’s seats at Yankee Stadium also have cachet. “These tickets are really good; you just can’t [pick up the phone and] buy them. So baseball fans appreciate seeing the game up close,” Harrison says proudly. HOW DOES TAKING A CLIENT TO A SPORTING EVENT COMPARE TO A GOLF OUTING OR A DINNER? “There are some people who would view going to dinner as a rather common kind of event,” says Clifford Greene. “Also there’s energy and excitement at a sporting event and at a dinner you need to supply the conversation, the energy and the excitement.” In Memphis, going to see the NBA’s Grizzlies is the premier after-work entertainment option, according to Gregory Suskind of Suskind Susser, which felt a “civic duty” to support the recently arrived team with $80-a-seat season tickets. “There are not a lot of non-eating activities in the evening that would be appropriate to take a client to here,” he says. “There are concerts but you want to be able to talk to your client and a Grizzlies game lends itself to that. And we’re just not a golfing firm.” One of the immigration firm’s seven attorneys takes a client to the game about 25 percent to 30 percent of the time, Suskind says, but most of the firm’s client base is out of town. Chiefly, the tickets to the 41 games are used to reward the 18 support staffers. And, with the Grizzlies only being in their fourth season since relocating from Vancouver, there is still an excitement to go see the city’s first big-time pro team. In Oklahoma City, Robertson & Williams supports minor-league baseball and college sports. One afternoon each summer, the firm closes its office, hires a temp to answer phones and rents limousines to take all 11 employees to see the Oklahoma City Red Hawks, a AAA farm team of the Texas Rangers. “It’s kind of a nice way of saying ‘thank you’ and decompressing and not dealing with angry lawyers all the time,” says name partner Mark Robertson. Similarly, at Ferraro & Associates in Miami, season tickets to the NFL’s Dolphins, the NBA’s Heat and University of Miami Hurricanes football are not about taking care of clients. “It’s for the employees,” says James Ferraro, whose firm has 10 lawyers and 40 other staff. “It’s kind of like a fringe benefit. It gives them more pride in their job.” Jon Bream, a reporter at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, is a charter Timberwolves season ticketholder. Contact him at [email protected].

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