Deborah Wagnon

Jockette: Wagnon tackles Nashville for the NWFL
March 5th, 2001
Nashville Business Journal
by Joe Morris

It's no accident that Deborah Wagnon's offices at Cornelius & Collins overlook Adelphia Coliseum.

Wagnon, of counsel to the firm, has a long history in entertainment law, and now is establishing herself in the world of professional sports as well. She is league counsel to the newly formed National Women's Football League (NWFL), and is actively looking at endorsement deals and other high-end transactions in both men's and women's professional sports.

On the entertainment side, she continues to maintain music and film clients worldwide, and is a professor in the Recording Industry program at MTSU. A former musician and singer, Wagnon wants to maintain a presence in that world, but says it's sports that is holding her attention at the moment.

Although the league has only held a series of exhibition games and will not begin its first season until April, there already is much to do. Wagnon ticks off a list of what she's had to get familiar with in a short time: franchise law, antitrust issues, collective bargaining agreements, to name a few.

"It's extremely interesting to me what I'm learning about the process," she says. "I have met with the counsel for the NFL, who has been a great source of information and assistance in helping me learning how to structure an upstart league; it's a complicated undertaking."

The league will have 10 to 12 teams in its first season, and will expand as new markets demonstrate their ability to field a quality team successfully.

The primary scrutiny for teams revolves around the local demand for the product, the local talent pool and the capabilities of management and leadership, says Catherine Masters, NWFL owner. She has turned down many requests because those three things weren't there, or weren't up to snuff as of yet. The process of vetting requests is time-consuming, and so Wagnon's input and capabilities have been vital to her as she's established the league, she says.

"Nashville's a great town," Masters says. "But music's always run the town, and now it has a thriving sports industry. When I first came here I couldn't find anybody to do my sports legal work. Deborah's on the vanguard of changing that. She's bright, articulate and knows what she's doing.

The first season is being viewed as a "wait and see" proposition, Wagnon says, with corporate sponsors waiting to see how well the teams fare, and the interest level they maintain. That said, there still will be a lot going on during that time period.

"I'm positioning us in the marketplace and who we associate with in terms of television and sponsorships," she says. "I've met with Fox, CNN, the new Women's Entertainment TV, in terms of finding potentially interested sponsors."

A book deal has been inked and a documentary is falling into place. Both will deal with the startup of the league, and will be compiled as the inaugural season progresses. Although her first reaction when approached by Masters to handle the league's legal chores was "I don't do sports," Wagnon admit to more than a glancing familiarity with that world.

Football, she says, is the last untapped major market for women's sports, so it got her attention immediately for that reason. The fact that the league was in Nashville enabled her to settle into a home she owns here, was another plus. She reached the "of counsel" deal with Cornelius & Collins, and was charged with growing their sports and entertainment practice. She maintains a presence in Los Angeles at the Fox Law Group, and with Jonathon Pollack in New York, so she's keeping tabs on her music clients while growing the other sector.

REACH MORRIS at or 615-248-2222, ext. 112.

Copyright 2001 American City Business Journals Inc. 

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