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Tammi Gaw’s Trifecta: Law, Athletic Training, and Social Justice

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By: DaWon Baker, @dawonbbaker

Tammi Gaw, Vice President of Administration for the World Police & Fire Games

Front Office Sports is glad to have sat down with Tammi Gaw. Tammi is an athletic trainer and practicing attorney, who now works within numerous roles in sports business and sports law. She currently serves as the Vice President of Administration for the World Police & Fire Games. Tammi has also started her own consulting firm, Advantage Rule, and is a contributing author to Empower: Women’s Stories of Breakthrough Discovery and Triumph. Check out why Tammi will always love entrepreneurs as she shares how to succeed in your space in the sports industry.

Give us a description of your career trajectory.

I was born in Colorado, and I did my undergrad at the University of Oklahoma majoring in Health and Sport Science. After graduation, I sat for the National Athletic Training Association certification exam, and am still a board certified Athletic Trainer. In 1997, I went to California where I also got my masters in Sports Administration from Cal Baptist. In 2004 I left my full time athletic training practice to get my law degree, from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. I then moved to Washington D.C., where I passed the Maryland Bar exam and waived into the District of Columbia bar. I then worked for a non-profit for four years as an in house counsel, and left in 2011 to start my own consulting firm, Advantage Rule. I now work in various aspects of sports law and business and corporate management. Most recently, I took a position as the Vice President for the organizing committee for the 2015 World Police and Fire Games, which is the Olympics for police officers and fire fighters from around the world. In 2015, we had ten thousand athletes compete in the Games.

You are technically still an athletic trainer and lawyer, correct? How did you use the knowledge and skills from athletic training to transition in your positions now?

Yes, there are seven of us (that we know of) who are still board certified athletic trainers and practicing attorneys, it’s amazing the dedication I see from us as a group. One thing that I think about and can relate to is the concussion movement. This is just an example, but my ability to understand an issue like that from both sides of the locker room has proven to be invaluable. A lot of people talk about it, including lawyers, and they understand it from a legal perspective, but I also understand it from the perspective of a 20 year-old kid who cannot remember what he had for breakfast that morning.

That’s just one example, but when you are in the athletic training room, you are dealing with various departments within the athletic department, like sports information. I’ve had instances where we had to blackout windows because we had a student athlete who was a high draft pick and was on the training table, and the media were attempting to get photos of him. I also have a different viewpoint of how an athletic department budget really looks like, from both sides of the pitch. The experience was invaluable, not only from the job perspective but also from working with multiple sports. It has given me the opportunity to see things in a holistic way that not everyone has the opportunity to see.

How has your law background influenced your career in sport?

It finished the trifecta, which was the last piece of having a granular understanding of the business and law aspects of sport. It kind of served as the last player on the chessboard for me. In this case, I already understood the game, but that’s when I got to learn things like antitrust issues. That said, I feel like I’m always learning despite having a good understanding. If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

What made you want to start your own consulting firm? What made you want to establish your own brand and company in sport business?

The word brand is the key. I have a great deal of varied interests. When I was with the non-profit, I was working with international sovereign debt litigation policy matters, and I got to address the UK Parliament in Westminster. These were things that were completely different to my experience working in sport. I give you this background to say that the best way for me to maintain and communicate my brand occupying in this unique space that I have, was to create my own space. ‘When people ask me, what do you do?’ There are as many different answers as the people who are asking, because it depends on the perspective that they’re asking about.

I started Advantage Rule, which is a soccer term that means to ‘play on through the foul,’ it started as a blog I had years ago. I decided to keep with the name, but it’s given me opportunities to take contracts of varying lengths in sports law and business, and it allows me to navigate the speaking scene as well. I’ve spoken on things like concussion issues and athlete rights, which I’m very passionate about because of what I saw firsthand in my experiences. I saw what happened to my athletes during their time in the sport and how it stayed with them. Advantage Rule allows me to maintain the ownership and control of my own brand, while doing the variety of things that I’m passionate about, without being pigeon holed to a singular job or position.

Can you briefly explain Advantage Rule?

Advantage Rule is a vehicle to provide consulting services and to take on global projects in the areas of sports law, business and medicine. Additionally, Advantage Rule advocates for issues of athletes’ rights and organizational diversity at the senior management and board levels.

What are your duties in your current role with the World Police and Fire Games?

Right now I am the Vice President of Administration. I oversee the finance, legal, accommodation, budgets, risk management and insurance policies and the HR division of the organizing committee. My position is an example of how many elements go into making a sporting event happen. I have the experience and flexibility to now take jobs that deal with these aspects, such as working with large scale, multi-venue arenas, in addition to directing people and maintaining integrity and fiscal responsibility across cost centers.

As an entrepreneur, how do you see entrepreneurship shaping sports law or sport business?

People usually see entrepreneurship as a business strategy or something that you do, but I see it as a mentality. In sports for instance, it just isn’t as straightforward as people think. If you’re even just talking about collegiate athletics, there are such a diverse number of issues. When it comes to international legal scandals like the FIFA scandal, the people I value working with come from an entrepreneurship type of mentality. People with entrepreneurial minds are the ones I want to collaborate with on those issues.

I see it in action whenever I go to the Sports Lawyer Association. You can see a different breed of young professionals coming out, and some veterans too, but I definitely see it taking shape in sport business. It’s also not about how many people can go and start their own consulting firm or how many can start their own agencies, or something similar. I really think entrepreneurship is not something you do, but a mindset and becoming a creative problem solver.

With your entrepreneurial mindset, do you see anything playing a big role in sport in 2016?

The CTE and concussion issue is not going anywhere anytime soon. Personally, from a social justice perspective, I also think that athletes’ rights have hit a pivot point. As far as college athletics, even professionals but certainly in college athletics, there has been an exploitation of race and class in the athletes. I am really interested to see how it will go about and how we will address it. It may not be as simple as unionizing the players, but rather to finally deal with the question of how to get the student athletes a seat at the table. It is time we start looking at real questions and real issues, not just the fluffy stuff.

What we saw at the University of Missouri, I think those kids changed the game, whether it be for the leverage athletes have or the debate about unionization, I think that we’re going to see some movement in college athletes and their seat at the table. I think that they realized that they have some leverage and that they need to be consulted on issues outside of athletics, such as fair education or quality of life. Internationally, the FIFA scandal, and now the doping scandal, will remain a big part of sport in 2016.

What advice do you have for those getting in sport business, sports law, or those looking to start their own brand?

The biggest advice I offer is that sport is not a zero sum game. I have worked with a variety people that have been too afraid of others coming up and stealing their job, or who have downplayed opportunities for the upcoming generation. There is enough room here for anyone who has a passion for working in sport. I see a lot of students and young professionals get discouraged because they compare themselves to established professional and don’t see how they can carve their own niche.

Various people have reached out to me, and want to talk about making this transition. I see a lot of people get discouraged because they are such established professionals and they don’t see how they can carve out their own niche. Get in and find that niche, there is enough room here. I would also suggest that you leave the win at all costs attitude at the door. That does not foster healthy business relationships. I don’t think a lot of academic or law school programs teach that very well. I think some schools are too focused on career stats, job reporting stats, and things like that.

I advise all professionals, especially young professionals, to find a good role model, do the jobs with integrity, and act as positive influences. My professional career has been informed by people like Anita Clark, the Assistant Athletic Trainer when I was at OU. She showed me how to do my job with dedication and integrity. Also, don’t have the attitude of climbing the ladder and pulling it up behind you, it’s a destructive attitude, give back. One of my favorite quotes is from David Whyte, “What you can plan is too small for you to live.” There is no ceiling and I wish more young people embraced that and had that confidence.

Any last words you’d like to leave with us?

I like to tell people that if you’ve taken an unconventional path in your career, be proud of it and use that experience as leverage. Figure out how to explain it in an elevator speech too. It’s up to you to create the narrative of your goals and aspirations. It’s up to you to explain why you took the route that you did. When I hire, I look for unique resumes and experiences. A lot of times those candidates are outside of the box thinkers. I would also advise people to go to conferences and networking events. Learn to network and build those relationships organically. We can tell who is trying to build organically relationships, compared to those just “picking your brain.” Create your own narrative.

You can check out Tammi’s website and book above, and check her out on Twitter here and on LinkedIn here!

This interview is another edition of “Winning Edge Wednesday” in congruence with our partnership with the Winning Edge Leadership Academy. Every Wednesday we will be featuring the story of a woman or minority working in the sports business industry.If you know of a professional you would like featured, drop us a line at russ@frontofficesports.org.


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How The UNC Tar Heels Organized Roy Williams’ Court Dedication

To celebrate the dedication of Roy Williams Court, UNC staff were tasked with putting together a special reunion dubbed Carolina Family Weekend.

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via UNC Basketball

(*Teamworks is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)

The history of the NCAA Tournament can’t be told properly without the inclusion of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Tar Heels and head men’s basketball coach Roy Williams. Now in his 16th season as Tar Heels head coach, Williams has guided UNC to five Final Fours and three national championships alongside a host of individual coaching awards.

To honor Coach Williams and his impact on UNC basketball, the university dedicated the court inside the Dean E. Smith Center to him with a ceremony in August of 2018. To celebrate the occasion, men’s basketball staffers were tasked with putting together a special reunion dubbed Carolina Family Weekend that included hundreds of UNC’s greatest players from Williams’ time as a student, assistant coach, and head coach in Chapel Hill as well as the current team and members of Williams’ family. This mainly fell on the shoulders of administrative assistant Cynthia Friend and business operations/special events manager Kaye Chase.

READ MORE: Mississippi State Volleyball Camps Run Efficiently While Building for the Program’s Future

To help notify all the invitees about the event and maintain their contact information, Friend and Chase needed an effective communication tool in Teamworks. UNC’s athletic department had already been utilizing the software for two years for a number of internal logistics like messaging, compliance related tasks, distributing travel itineraries, and document sharing, but found another use for it in Teamworks’ mass communication abilities.

“There were multiple parts to the reunion including the unveiling of the court, dinner, a golf outing, and pick-up games on Saturday. We needed to get all that information to the lettermen as well as get their RSVPs in the most time-efficient way that we could,” says Friend.

The two then were able to set up different profiles for each prospective guest within the program that included their respective contact info and their eventual response. To maximize likelihood of a response, Friend and Chase used Teamworks to send both emails and texts to all prospective attendees.

“Going into this, we really were not sure how we were going to handle RSVPs,” recalls Chase. “So we made a form, which auto-populated into an Excel spreadsheet. That saved us quite a bit of time.”

Friend and Chase then were able to efficiently let the hundreds of attendees know where they were expected to be for each event as well as other key logistical details. If and when small changes to the schedule occurred, all attendees could be notified easily through Teamworks. The end result was a very smooth weekend that had many of the former players raving on social media both during and after the weekend.

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READ MORE: Miami Hurricanes Leverage Technology To Prepare For Actual Hurricanes

Moving forward, the Tar Heels plan to hold more reunion events, particularly for their teams that won national championships or reached the Final Four. 2019 marked Roy Williams’ 29th season in the NCAA Tournament as a head coach. It is only a matter of time before one of his legendary teams is honored with a special return trip home to Chapel Hill. When that time comes, UNC administrators will have the procedures in place to make it happen after acquiring the contact information for nearly every letterman in program history through setting up Carolina Family Weekend. 

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“It’s great to have these processes and this information already in place for smaller events and reunions,” Chase says. “Having all of our lettermen organized into this database has been really great for us. We’re looking forward to finding more ways to use it and more reasons to bring our alumni back to campus.”

To learn more about how Teamworks helps empower the sports world’s best, visit Teamworks.com today.

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USOC Continues Turn to Tech to Increase Medal Counts in Tokyo

The U.S. Olympic Committee is careful in the technologies its sports use, but overall technology is now an important tool in helping train athletes.

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Photo via USOC

Phil Cheetham is careful to avoid analysis paralysis.

The term was used to describe providing athletes with too much information from the variety of ways data can be collected today. Cheetham, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s director of sport technology and innovation, said the TMI condition is possible, but easily maneuvered around by allowing coaches to be the gatekeeper.

“We’ll feed coaches as much as we can,” Cheetham said. “They’re the filter, they have to take the data and filter it into coach speak and into the drills and exercises.”

Cheetham’s role is largely to interact and advise with the various National Governing Bodies that make up the U.S. Olympic teams as they enter into the final training stretch of Tokyo 2020.

READ MORE: Inside Sports Tech Tokyo’s Aspirations to Be Gateway to Asia for Sports Tech Businesses

His main goal is to help the various teams, coaches and technical directors select technology that is simple to use and helps understand and improve athletes more rapidly and to avoid injuries.

“If tech can help an athlete be quicker and better, then we’re for it,” Cheetham said.

That said, Cheetham said the technology used within the U.S. teams across the sports spectrum have to not be too intrusive. The equipment — like wearables – must be simple and easily integrated into a piece of clothing or shoes, without impeding the athletic performance. They also need to be accurate, and accuracy is improving regularly, but still can be a problem.

Cheetham, a former Olympic gymnast for Australia, also has a passion for diving and has several pet projects working with those two sports at the USOC.

The technology within the U.S. Olympic community is greatly helped by a fund created by philanthropists from Silicon Valley. Cheetham said the fund is made up of entrepreneurs and billionaires from V.C. firms and tech companies, to provide an advisory board.

“It’s not just money, but expertise and networking,” Cheetham said. “These guys are the top of Silicon Valley, so they know everybody. If we want to know what’s best in motion capture, artificial intelligence or virtual reality, we can go to them first.”

The Olympic organizations often have a chance to be among the first users for a lot of technologies in sports — and while it can be great to be on the cutting edge of the innovation, Cheetham said it’s important not to let the athletes be guinea pigs.

“A lot of times, we get prototypes, and that’s good and bad,” he said. “A lot of times, a weekend warrior or high school and college athletes can do the basic testing and when the tech is close to ready, that’s when it comes to the Olympics.”

That’s because if the data doesn’t work, it can’t help the teams improve. Technology, like one of his pet projects in motion capture, has increasingly gotten better and faster, collecting so much more data and more efficiently without disrupting athletes. Now the statistical models created can be much more useful in following trends and designing training around how long to train and when to take breaks.

READ MORE: Why Alibaba’s Push Into Sports Is a Natural Fit for the Chinese E-Commerce Company

“We’re really interested in tech that helps us track training length and intensity, and if we can do that, we can periodize training sessions better and taper perfectly for a competition,” Cheetham said. “When you’re training at an elite level, you’re walking a tight-rope of performance and injury. You can’t win a competition if you’re not in it, and the tech is helping us avoid injuries.”

The data collected can also provide coaches with more accurate information for better coaching, like if a shot put throw is off six degrees. It’s no longer “I think you were.” Now, it’s “I know you were.”

When it comes down to the technology used, Cheetham said the USOC takes yearly solicitations and ranks projects and budgets based on which ones will have the best chance to improve medal count. Often, the projects are easily transferable from one sport to another.

One example he provided was a radar technology used to track shot put, javelin, discus and hammer throws. The USOC technology was originally developed to track golf balls.

“We’ll do some blue sky projects, but most are good sells and no-brainers.”

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Why Alibaba’s Push Into Sports Is a Natural Fit for the Chinese E-Commerce Company

A long-term Olympic partnership showcases the cloud computing power of Alibaba and makes it a global player in the sports tech industry.

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Alibaba, China’s massive e-commerce company, is making its presence felt in sports.

The Chinese company first entered the sports realm in 2017, signing a long-term partnership with the IOC to become the official “Cloud Infrastructure and Services” and “E-Commerce Platform” partner of the Olympics.

Heading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games, Alibaba has partnered with Intel with intentions to develop the first AI-powered 3D tracking technology. The partnership will utilize Alibaba’s cloud computing with Intel’s hardware and deep-learning algorithms.

The partnership with Intel will hopefully bring Alibaba more name recognition and insight into the company’s operations, said Joey Tan, Alibaba Cloud head of global initiatives and general manager of sports business unit.

“It’s just getting the brand out there,” Tan said at CES this week in Las Vegas.

Alibaba Cloud is the world’s third largest cloud provider, behind Microsoft and AWS, and its foray into sports has all been cloud-driven. Tan said Alibaba’s exploration into sports is about four key points: digitizing fan engagement, innovative broadcasts, cost-effective operations, and high-performance athletic training.

READ MORE: Inside Sports Tech Tokyo’s Aspirations to Be Gateway to Asia for Sports Tech Businesses

At the first Olympics as a sponsor, the company put on the Alibaba Olympic Games Showcase at PyeongChang in 2018. The immersive and interactive exhibit gave more than 100,000 attendees a glimpse at how technology can change future games.

In September 2018, Alibaba partnered with the Olympic Broadcasting System to launch the OBS Cloud to digitize broadcasting of the 2020 Olympics. The OBS Cloud helps streamline broadcasting workflow.

The OBS Cloud also goes along with the announcement of the Intel partnership, which will create deeper conversation around performance tracking by giving fans insights into the world-class athletic performances.

“It’s creating better athletic content to tell better stories,” Tan said. “It’s for broadcasters to tell wonderful stories, but at the same time, use it for teams and federations to do more fine-tuning with the athletes.”

Alibaba holds lots of American sport broadcasting rights in China. The company won Pac-12 rights and the ability to broadcast 175 events annually. The company’s streaming arm, Youku, won rights to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Youku also has a partnership with the NFL.

Sports were a natural fit for the evolution of the Alibaba company, Tan said, as founder Jack Ma believes strongly in “health and happiness.”

Alibaba has so much technology in the retail realm, and Tan said they’re pulling that technology and applying it to sports — helping showcase the company to a wider audience.

READ MORE: Toyota Grows Olympic Involvement With Six New Partnerships

“We are using the Olympics as a primary showcase of our abilities,” he said. “Sports brings health and happiness, so in 2017 we said ‘let’s make the health and happiness vision true.’”

In December, Alibaba launched the Olympic Store on Tmall, the Chinese retail website operated by Alibaba. Chinese fans can purchase Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 products all year. There are additional plans to launch a global e-commerce platform.

There are no major immediate plans to enter the U.S. market with its sports products, but Tan said the U.S. is certainly on the radar screen.

“The U.S. is one of the biggest markets in the world when it comes to sports consumers,” he said. “Our first strategy is with Intel and working closely with the USOC.”

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