'Storm' watch


Sports agency president shares knowledge with UDM students

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Building a sports agency from the ground floor, recruiting clients, negotiating contracts and understanding collective bargaining agreements – not your usual topics for a law school class. But students in the Sports Law class at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law enjoyed the learning opportunity from attorney Storm Kirschenbaum, a certified MLBPA player agent and president of Metis Sports Management in Birmingham, specializing in baseball and NFL benefit matters.

“I’ve been approached on several occasions to teach sports law at UDM Law, but it was difficult to find time with my volatile schedule as an agent,” says Kirschenbaum, a 2003 graduate of the law school, where he served three terms as president of the Entertainment and Sports Law Society. 

“I found time last fall to teach my first class and it was a very rewarding experience. It was an awkward feeling standing in front of the students when just a short time ago I was sitting in their chairs. I definitely had many flashbacks of sweating out final exams and doing my briefs right before class incase the professor called on me!”

While Kirschenbaum enjoys going to work every day and having a passion for his craft, he advises it’s not an easy field to break into.

“The most challenging aspect is the competition and lack of jobs in the industry,” he says. “It’s a ‘who you know’ business and making contacts while in school will certainly help your career path. I encourage all my students and interns to make an effort in making contacts with anyone in this field, because you never know when an opening may occur.”

Getting experience as an attorney in others areas of law before embracing a focus on getting a job in sports law is important, he notes.

“If you can become an expert in labor law, malpractice law or other areas it can open a door into a company looking for someone that has specific skills outside just the area of sports.”

But for Kirschenbaum, there was never any doubt of his career path. A star baseball player at Birmingham Groves High School, he was named to the USA Today All-American Team, All-State, and Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association “Dream Team,” named Athlete of the Year by the Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation, and Player of the Year by the Royal Oak Tribune. He followed this with a scholarship from No. 1 ranked University of Florida, and played his last two seasons at Long Island University–C.W. Post (Division I) where he was awarded the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Merit Medal for the highest academic average and athletic achievement.

He knew going into law school that he wanted to represent athletes – and was drawn to the law to better understand the inner workings of how to negotiate a contract, navigate collective bargaining agreements, and become familiar in various areas of law his clients would come across in their careers.

?A member of the American Bar Association’s Entertainment and Sports Law Forum and of the Michigan State Bar, Kirschenbaum opened Metis Sports Management in July 2007, after seeing too many stories of athletes losing their fortunes or getting bad advice from agents that were not looking out for their client’s best interest.

“It was my passion and desire to get these athletes on track by developing a game plan to succeed not only on the field, but also off the field,” he says. “We quarterback our clients’ needs by assisting them with obtaining experts such as, financial planners, accountants, estate attorneys, so they are set for life. The game is short, but the money earned during a career can last a lifetime if properly managed.”

The agency represents close to 100 athletes, and in the past four years, has negotiated more than $30 million in contracts. Currently, it has had 10 players reach the 40-man Major League roster this season, including Philadelphia Phillies’ catcher Erik Kratz, Fernando Rodriguez of the Oakland Athletics, and flame thrower Jose Dominguez of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

With his own sports background, Kirschenbaum knows only too well the lofty challenges and amount of time it takes to become a professional athlete.

“It’s hard on the family, hard physically and emotionally on the client and financially can be difficult swimming in the minor leagues waiting for your break,” he says. “I can appreciate what my clients go through on a personal level and make sure to be a shoulder to lean on during these ups and downs.”

In one challenging case, a client had tested positive for a banned substance in the previous season. Adamant that he never took anything illegal, he wanted to appeal his suspension.

“We worked diligently on his case and were able to find the laboratory that tested his sample accidentally made an error and gave him a false positive result,” Kirschenbaum says.  “He won his appeal and we became only the third agency to successfully appeal a positive drug test.”

Over the course of the past three years, Metis has merged with two agencies; one in the Dominican Republic and the other in Taiwan, expanding the agency’s global presence and providing direct lines of communication with international prospective clients and professional teams in Asia. Metis also is in the process of merging with two more agencies that would give the agency roots in Venezuela and Canada.

Boxing is another sports passion; Kirschenbaum and his father created the Michigan Boxing Hall of Fame and are seeking a facility to home the Hall.

“We’ve had great conversations with some of Michigan’s business leaders and are hopeful to land a spot in the near future,” he says.  “Boxing and Detroit go hand-in-hand – there are numerous world champions from Michigan, like Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Thomas Hearns.”

Despite a hectic schedule, Kirschenbaum finds time to give back to the community. “I’ve enjoyed my experience serving on the board with the Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation,” he says.

“We’ve given over a million dollars to cancer causes and operate the Hank Greenberg Golf and Tennis Invitational, which is one of the finest golf outings in the country.”  

A native of Franklin, Kirschenbaum and his wife, Dr. Alison Kirschenbaum, live in Birmingham with their sons, Cole, 5, and 2-month-old Blaine. Kirschenbaum has lived in Birmingham since moving back from college 13 years ago.

“I love Birmingham, the schools are fantastic for my kids and the city is a safe and active place to live and work.”

He also chose to headquarter Metis in Birmingham, despite having always been told that to be an agent he would need to move to Los Angeles or New York.

“It always made sense to me to stay in Michigan. We have a strong foundation of universities and high schools that produce talent every year, and our professional teams are some of the best in the country,” he says.

“I’m a firm believer in the State of Michigan and the City of Detroit, which is why I work as much as possible with firms and companies locally owned and operated. I have high hopes for the City of Detroit. Our area produces some great minds and there’s no reason we can’t keep those talents in the Detroit area and once again become a city that everyone talks about in a positive light.”

He coaches Cole’s T-ball team, and tries to make time for an occasional round of golf.

“And I’m still active in hockey and softball, however, my body is refusing to keep up with me after two ACL surgeries and a torn labrum,” he says.

Baseball is still his overriding passion.

“Baseball is in my veins – there’s no sport that is set up where you fail more than you succeed. But, failing 7 out of 10 times when you are at the plate still can land you in the Hall of Fame,” he says. “That foundation is parallel to the agency industry.  We don’t land every client we go after, but the clients we represent, and enjoy success with, make the outcome much more rewarding.”