Whole in One
How Steve Abreu launched a comprehensive disc golf-focused practice
Published in 2022 Massachusetts Super Lawyers magazine
By Natalie Pompilio on October 7, 2022
Soon after he began playing disc golf in March 2020, trademark attorney Steve Abreu had a realization: The distinctive plastic Frisbees he was throwing were valuable pieces of intellectual property—and wasn’t it his job to help companies protect their IP?
Less than three years later, Abreu’s firm, the Boston-based Sunstein LLP, has a client roster that includes disc golf’s professional tour, its number-one player and multiple equipment manufacturers. It sponsors the Sunstein Series, a season-long competition that culminates in a championship tournament at one of the world’s premiere courses, and “Patent Pending Moments” segments that air during live coverage on Disc Golf Network.
“I’ve always wanted to do something in the sports industry, and around the time I got into the sport, membership in the PDGA doubled in one year,” says Abreu, a partner and the trademark practice group chair at the firm. “We got in at the right time, just when people were realizing that the sport was rapidly growing and professionalizing.”
An investment of $20,000 came back four-fold in the first year, he says, and Sunstein continues to add clients from the disc golf universe. Abreu’s passion for the sport has been at the center of it all.
“I really love thinking about disc golf, watching disc golf, keeping up to date on what’s up with the sport,” he says. “I listen to disc golf podcasts and I’ll watch it on the weekend, and if I miss it live, I’ll watch the recap. I love going to play, and I’m good enough now that, when I’m on the course, people don’t groan if they’re behind me.”
The sport, sometimes also called Frisbee golf, is similar to traditional golf in many ways, but instead of a hole, players aim for a target, usually a metal basket. Courses run from nine to 18 baskets and the player who completes the course with the lowest number of total throws is the winner. As in “ball golf,” disc golf players putt; there are birdies and bogeys; and courses are dotted with hazards, including trees.
Its popularity has exploded in part because it’s cheap to play—most discs cost around $20 and most courses are free—and relatively easy to pick up. Abreu says there’s also something special about watching a disc fly.
“It’s incredible how far and how accurate pros can throw a disc. With no effort they can launch it the length of 1½ football fields, no problem, and get it to stop within 20 feet of a target,” he says. “You can see the disc in the air the entire time. There’s really something about seeing physics in action.”
Purse sizes for pro events are growing in 2022: In April, the Champions Cup increased its purse by $95,000 and in June, the Portland Open added $50,000 to its purse.
Individual players are also getting large endorsement deals. Last January, two-time PDGA-World Champion Ricky Wysocki signed a four-year, $4 million endorsement deal with Dynamic Discs, thanks in part to Abreu and company. While putting together that deal, Abreu took note of how Roger Federer temporarily lost use of his RF logo when he left Nike, who owned the trademark, to join Uniqlo. Abreu ensured the same did not happen to Wysocki’s SockiBomb brand.
“We registered it,” Abreu says. “He can take it with him for sponsors to come.”
Abreu also made Sunstein the first non-endemic business to sponsor disc golf events. “Now when you watch the Disc Golf Network,” he says, “there are more non-endemic sponsors, like more food and drink companies, more CBD oils, an accounting company. … We’re not alone anymore.” He’s also noticed at least one other law firm regularly advertising its services: “We’ve proved the concept.”
When it comes to representing the sport’s pro tour, the DGPT, Abreu and his team do everything from protecting its intellectual property to negotiating agreements with players and media companies; drawing up contracts for disc golf documentaries; and laying the groundwork for policies that will be needed when live betting becomes part of the sport.
“One of the great things about the disc golf community is how people support each other,” Abreu says. “That’s why we have our own local tour and tournament. We want to walk the walk on how much we love the sport.”
Abreu hopes to get at least five more colleagues to take up the sport in the next few years. He’s also looking forward to taking his 7-year-old daughter, Lauren, to the course—even though she’s currently more interested in ballet and tap dancing.
“It’s hard for little kids to throw a Frisbee; that comes at 8 or 9,” he says. “I would love for her to pick up golf or disc golf. If it was ball golf, maybe she could get a scholarship. That’s something that disc golf doesn’t have now, collegiate scholarships, but it’s possible.”
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