Sports Law


Contributed by Foley & Lardner LLP

It is hard to deny that there is a vast amount of growth taking place in the sports industry. As the economy has improved, so have revenue opportunities. With an estimated value of more than $600 billion, it is clear that big money is calling the shots. The rapid growth is affecting all aspects of the industry, including franchise acquisitions and sales, stadium and arena development, media deals and related technology, compliance, labor and employment, and collegiate sports issues.

Franchise Acquisitions and Sales 

In recent years, the industry witnessed an increase in franchise sales and acquisitions, both domestically and internationally. This was driven by a variety of factors, ranging from financial distress to advantages posed by heightened valuations — caused in part by significant increases in media revenue. Whether representing the buyer or the seller, these transactions are comprised of complex issues — from team ownership, tax and media contracts to stadium and ancillary development considerations, financing, licensing and sponsorship deals.

From a legal perspective, it is not just about the transaction. Attorneys must understand the complete picture. There is an expectation that attorneys understand the key trends, can advise on future developments and challenges, and recognize the stakes. In the past, teams were sold based on a multiple of revenues; now, attorneys, clients and investments bankers must look at the entirety of the enterprise and potential challenges for league approval. Have market valuations peaked? No, there is no sign of the bubble bursting in the coming year. We are beginning to see fewer franchises for sale as the assets continue to appreciate. Although existing team control interests are difficult to find, we continue to expect possible distress sales (that, unlike any other distressed asset, will sell at a premium) and potential soccer and hockey expansion teams in the United States.

Stadium and Arena Development 

Stadium and arena developments slowed significantly during the height of the recession. As the economy recovers, interest rates continue to stay at historically low levels. Stadium and arena development by professional and collegiate teams is expected to experience an upswing, as teams continue to seek public funding and look to develop public/private partnerships, including ancillary development, to justify new sports facilities or renovation of existing facilities. Forming partnerships with the public sector is becoming more challenging and yet, due to the recent trend to reduce direct investment in facilities, creativity to lever public sector incentives with private investment will be a significant part of the facility development discussion. These types of deals will require a broad range of skills, including public and private financing, tax-exempt municipal finance, real estate, tax and transactional, all through the lens of government affairs. To be successful, attorneys will need not only to know national trends, but also to understand the state and local government players and history.

Media Deals 

Another key component to the rapid sports business growth is wrapped in the fan experience. Media and technology are making teams more accessible to a broader audience, and devoted fans are able to build connections to their teams and players in ways that did not exist in the past. Professional and collegiate sports organizations understand the opportunity for growth and revenue. As competition increases, the demand for sports media rights, both nationally (such as ESPN and FS1) and locally (such as RSNs), and the rights fees for these relatively scarce assets continue to rise. Given the “DVR-proof” nature of sports media rights and the appeal of sports among the key young male demographic, sports media rights are extremely valuable to advertisers, which affects their overall value. Professional sports teams and leagues, and collegiate schools and conferences, have been the greatest beneficiaries of these increasingly valuable rights. Until the existing pay-TV model is dramatically altered (e.g., a la carte programming), sports media rights fees should continue to rise.

In addition to traditional television rights, the rapid development of technology — combined with sports fans’ desire to watch any game, anywhere, anytime, on any device — will continue to present challenges to professional and collegiate sports properties, both from a business perspective, as they try to develop the optimal business model that values these additional rights incrementally without eating into the value of traditional television rights, and from a legal perspective, as they are confronted with new intellectual property issues.

Labor and Employment 

Labor and employment issues within the sports industry continue to make big headlines, even after many of the major leagues recently put rancorous negotiations with their players behind them with new collective bargaining agreements. Player health and welfare is a hot-button issue, both during a player's career and into retirement. All eyes are on football and the long-term effects of head injuries and related litigation brought by retired players claiming medical information and risks were concealed. Similar issues are surfacing in new litigation by former players concerning their medical treatment and the push to get them back on the field with alleged long-term detrimental effects. These issues, and their resolutions, will undoubtedly have a broader impact as they are relevant to college, high school and youth sports.

The sports industry is not immune to greater social issues of racism, bullying and sexual orientation. The pervasive nature of traditional and social media has fueled headlines concerning intolerance, prompting action at the team and league levels. Bullying and harassment of teammates, the presence of openly gay players in a locker room, the treatment of team cheerleaders, and the racist rants of a team owner are recent examples, as teams and leagues must learn to respond, evolve and adapt to these sensitive issues in a proactive, and very public, way.

Student Athlete Versus Student Employee 

The college basketball tournament season has once again ignited discussions regarding big money in college athletics. Media reports have run the gamut of issues — from student athletes going hungry to academic issues and graduation rates. All have spurred larger questions about whether college athletes should be treated as students or employees, or whether they should receive something more than a scholarship for the revenue generated for their schools by their extracurricular activity. Dark clouds gather over the NCAA and its entire economic model as it relates to student athletes. At the intersection of labor and antitrust law, we have seen players at Northwestern University pursue the right to form a union and negotiate with the school over the terms and conditions of their “employment” as players. While the fate of the Northwestern players’ cause pends before the National Labor Relations Board, other antitrust cases brought by current and former college athletes are winding their way through federal courts with the objective of undoing the NCAA’s hold on current and former players’ likeness rights for use in commercial ventures, as well as its limits on scholarships and what schools can pay them. The system hangs in the balance. It seems — whether voluntarily or by court order — change is coming for the NCAA and student athletes.

The Year Ahead 

Many of these issues will continue to make headlines and set trends for years to come. The mantra going into next year continues to be centered around “growth”. New media and branding efforts are paving the way for the globalization of sports, particularly in the Asia-Pacific markets. Building a global sports presence will continue to bring new opportunities in sports law, including matters relating to mergers and acquisitions, finance, facility development, intellectual property, media rights, sponsorships, event hosting, governance, and labor and employment.

Sports Law - Nationwide


第一等 |

Basic facts about the department
Key offices include Washington, DC.

What the team is known for One of the foremost sports practices in the country, featuring a bench with knowledge, experience and talent that few can match. Particularly prominent in its work for the NFL, and for its expertise in sports leagues generally.

Strengths (Quotes mainly from clients)
"Their level of service is extraordinary and exemplary."

"They are a major player in the global sports industry."

"They have a tremendous amount of experience. They're fair, they're tough and they represent their clients in the best possible manner." 

Work highlights Acted for the NFL in litigation brought by the NFLPA alleging a conspiracy to affect player salaries during the 2010 season, when the salary cap did not apply.

Advised American Athletic Conference on a wide array of sports-related matters.

Notable practitioners  

The "brilliant" Gregg Levy is a "fantastic personality" who is "incredibly knowledgeable in the area," according to sources. His primary client is the NFL, for which he acts as lead outside counsel, including representing it in litigation concerning its model for apparel licensing.

Douglas Gibson is "very knowledgeable when it comes to the sports entertainment landscape," say interviewees, who note his negotiation skills as a particular strength. He recently represented the US Tennis Association in its broadcast deal with ESPN to show the US Open.

Bruce Wilson impresses sources with his intelligence and proficiency in transactional sports matters. He has acted on a number of recent bids and acquisitions in the area.

Peter Zern is "as sharp as they come," say sources, who describe his practice as "outstanding." He undertakes a wide range of corporate sports work, including acting as outside counsel to the American Athletic Conference.

Sources call the promising Benjamin Block "really quite an impressive guy" and a "good litigator who explains things in a clear, understandable way." He has acted alongside Gregg Levy in a number of matters for the NFL, including the 'Bountygate' litigation.

Jeremy Spector is an up-and-coming practitioner who undertakes sports-related tax work. He represents major clients in tax planning at a national and international level.

Paul Tagliabue is able to utilize his decades of experience both in private practice and as commissioner of the NFL. He continues to act in strategic roles in the sports area.

Significant clients Chicago Cubs, UFC, US Olympic Committee, MLB, NBA.

第一等 |

Basic facts about the department
Key offices include New York.

What the team is known for First-rate practice in the sports arena and particularly preeminent in labor matters. Its client list features many of the biggest leagues, teams and entities in sports.

Strengths (Quotes mainly from clients)
"Proskauer Rose is pretty much unparalleled." 

"We really were impressed across the board, from a strict legal perspective but also as an adviser."

"Best in class - smart, focused and committed." 

Work highlights Represented Major League Baseball in a grievance brought by Alex Rodriguez concerning his high-profile 211-game suspension.

Acted for the US Golf Association on its long-term media rights deal with Fox Sports.

Notable practitioners  

The "outstanding" Robert Batterman is lauded for his expertise in sports labor matters, with unmatched credentials for representing leagues in labor negotiations. One source says: "He has more experience in sports collective bargaining than anyone else in the country."

Howard Ganz is a labor specialist recognized by sources as a prominent practitioner. His recent work includes representing MLB in defending its dispute with banned star Alex Rodriguez.  

Joseph Leccese is "just a great, great lawyer" and "a leader in the sports industry," according to sources, who highlight the "terrific advice" he provides. He recently represented NASCAR in its significant media rights agreement with NBCUniversal and Fox Sports.

Sources have "very high regard" for Wayne Katz, noting his abilities in the corporate aspects of sports. He was recently part of the team acting for the Minnesota Vikings on various matters relating to its new stadium.

"Phenomenal" sports lawyer Jon Oram is a "terrific advocate" for his clients. He practices mainly in the corporate area, representing clients such as Levi Strauss, which he represented with respect to the naming of the San Francisco 49ers' new stadium.

Bradley Ruskin is a "great litigator" who gives "great counsel," according to sources. His significant recent work has included representing the NFL in litigation concerning counterfeiting of official NFL products.

Significant clients NBA, NHL, MLS, FA Premier League, Pac-12 Conference.

第一等 |

Basic facts about the department
Key offices include New York.

What the team is known for Highly rated team representing sports clients in a range of litigation and corporate matters. A large, talented and experienced bench, acting for a number of major leagues and sports teams.

Strengths (Quotes mainly from clients)
"A preeminent litigation practice." 

Work highlights Acted for the NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL and NCAA in litigation against the Governor of New York concerning gambling in sports events.

Represented golfer Rory McIlroy in a suit brought by Oakley concerning McIlroy's high-profile endorsement with Nike.

Notable practitioners  

Shepard Goldfein is a "really good lawyer" with extensive experience in sports litigation, complemented by his skills in antitrust law. He continues to represent the NHL in a multitude of matters.

Jeffrey Mishkin is a "very wise counsel" in sports matters and "understands the nuance involved in the industry." He has been representing five of the major sports leagues in litigation related to sports gambling in New Jersey.

Thomas Gowan is described as a "very, very good" attorney in the financing area. He has represented major client the NHL in relation to a number of recent team sales, including the New Jersey Devils and the Phoenix Coyotes.

Sources call Anthony Dreyer a "robust, very diligent" attorney, and note his "outstanding attention to detail and command of the facts." Recent work includes acting for Rory McIlroy in litigation brought by Oakley.

Significant clients PGA Tour, Traffic Sports, Chair of the AAA Panel, Chair of the CAS Panel.

Band 2 | Arent Fox LLP

第二等 |

Basic facts about the department
Key offices include San Francisco and Washington, DC.

What the team is known for Represents major clients in numerous sports across a broad spectrum of matters. Best known for its work in the media area, including naming rights, broadcast deals and corporate issues.

Strengths (Quotes mainly from clients)
"They do their homework to paint the whole picture and bring it to bear in a way that's unique."

"The lawyers not only protected our interests, but they helped guide us to make good, educated decisions in an area that could be difficult for a layperson to understand."

Work highlights Represented the San Francisco 49ers in its major stadium naming rights deal with Levi Strauss.

Acted for the Tennis Channel in its dealings with the US Tennis Association over rights agreements.

Notable practitioners  

Richard Brand is a "great communicator" and "phenomenal drafter," according to commentators, who also comment that he is a "good big-picture person." He recently represented the San Francisco 49ers in connection with the naming rights for its new stadium.

Significant clients New York Yankees, Cleveland Cavaliers, Memphis Grizzlies, Jacksonville Jaguars, Barclays Center.

第二等 |

Basic facts about the department
Key offices include New York.

What the team is known for Well-respected sports litigation practice that acts for some of the leading sports names around. Focuses primarily on issues relating to intellectual property and licensing.

Strengths (Quotes mainly from clients)
"They're very strong lawyers." 

"It's a great group at Debevoise." 

Work highlights Represented the Brooklyn Nets in issues concerning its new mascot and an associated advertising campaign.

Acted for the NFL in copyright litigation relating to the design of the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Notable practitioners  

Sources say Bruce Keller is "just terrific" and an "excellent lawyer." He has an IP-based sports practice and recently represented the NFL in a suit concerning the use of retired players' likenesses in productions by NFL Film.

Significant clients NBA, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, Washington Capitals, University of Florida.

第二等 |

Basic facts about the department
Key offices include New York.

What the team is known for Prominent in the field of stadium financing, with considerable expertise and experience to call on. Also represents clients in media rights, intellectual property and other general commercial sports work.

Strengths (Quotes mainly from clients)
"They know their stuff - they're very good at sports." 

"A very strong sports financing practice - that's their big strength. When it comes to construction financing, they're fantastic."

"Available and responsive - they're first rate at client service."

Work highlights Represented Goldman Sachs and US Bank in connection with the financing of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium, due to open in 2016.

Acted for Abu Dhabi United Group on its $100 million purchase of MLS expansion team New York City FC.

Notable practitioners  

The "outstanding" Mark Whitaker "is highly intelligent and has an uncanny grasp of all the detail," say sources. A financing specialist, he has worked on a number of recent stadium deals, including on behalf of the 49ers in relation to their new home.

Peter White is well regarded by peers and clients, particularly in relation to financing transactions. He was the lead lawyer for Goldman Sachs and US Bank in their $975 million stadium deal with the Minnesota Vikings.

Charles Baker is noted as a knowledgeable and reliable practitioner in this area. He primarily acts on corporate and financing matters, and recently represented Abu Dhabi United Group in its acquisition of New York City FC for $100 million.

Significant clients Chicago Cubs, Checketts Partners Investment Fund, Atlanta Hawks, Pac-12, ESPN.

第二等 |

Basic facts about the department
Key offices include Milwaukee.

What the team is known for Continues to be recognized as an important player in the sports world, with expertise in diverse areas such as media rights, intellectual property and stadium financing. Outstanding reputation in baseball-related matters.

Strengths (Quotes mainly from clients)
"Great work product. They hit the bullseye pretty much first time, without a lot of wasted motion."

"They really understand how it all works with Major League Baseball. That's where you get the value of a firm like that - they understand the league requirements."

Work highlights Acted for Empire State Development on redevelopment and financing strategy relating to New York State's only football team, the Buffalo Bills.

Acted for Guggenheim Baseball Management on its TV rights deal to create SportsNet LA.

Notable practitioners  

Mary Braza is an "excellent practitioner" who is a "great technician as well as a big-picture thinker." She is recognized for her extensive work with MLB, but of late has also advised Palace Sports & Entertainment, owners of the Detroit Pistons, on internal restructuring.

Sources "think the world of" Irwin Raij, highlighting his "very strong transactional practice." A sports law specialist, he has recently been representing Guggenheim Baseball Management in media rights issues concerning its new network, SportsNet LA.

Significant clients Green Bay Packers, Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs.

第二等 |

Basic facts about the department
Key offices include Los Angeles.

What the team is known for Prime movers in the sports entertainment world, with expertise including media and broadcast rights and transactional matters. Also continues to represent clients in the boxing world in a range of issues.

Work highlights Represented Top Rank in a range of boxing-related corporate and entertainment matters.

Acted for Guggenheim Securities on the creation and rollout of the Los Angeles Dodgers' regional network, SportsNet LA.

Notable practitioners  

David Marroso is a key contact in the firm's Los Angeles office.

Significant clients IOC, Association of Surfing Professionals, Arizona Diamondbacks, Manny Pacquiao, San Diego Padres.

第二等 |

Basic facts about the department
Key offices include New York.

What the team is known for Renowned for its work representing league players' associations in labor and employment matters. Also acts in a range of other disputes, including corporate and contractual issues.

Strengths (Quotes mainly from clients)
"I find them to be excellent lawyers - I have only positive things to say."

"The lawyers I have dealt with are extremely talented and very responsive – the two most important traits I look for in outside counsel."

Work highlights Represented Oakley in its dispute with Nike and Rory McIlroy concerning sponsorship rights.

Acted for NFL lineman Jonathan Fanene on achieving an injury settlement with the New England Patriots.

Notable practitioners  

Jeffrey Kessler has a "preeminent reputation," according to sources, who describe him as the "dominant lawyer on the players' side." His recent work has included acting for the NFLPA in litigation relating to the 2010 uncapped NFL season.

David Feher has extensive experience in a range of sports matters. He was lead lawyer for Oakley in its litigation against golfer Rory McIlroy and Nike for an alleged breach of a sponsorship agreement.

Significant clients National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), Women's Tennis Benefit Association, Professional Hockey Players' Association, Excel Sports.

第三等 |

Basic facts about the department
Key offices include Washington, DC.

What the team is known for Acts for clients on a range of intellectual property and telecom issues, with a particular emphasis on copyright royalty. Maintains relationships with several major clients, including the likes of MLB.

Strengths (Quotes mainly from clients)
"They do a terrific job." 

Work highlights Represented MLB in a variety of matters relating to the broadcast of baseball games across multiple media.

Acted for Joint Sports Claimants, a consortium of the major US sports leagues, before the Copyright Royalty Board.

Notable practitioners  

Robert Garrett is "the dean of copyright royalty work," say sources, who also comment that "he doesn't miss an issue - he's one of the best issue-spotters around." He has some 41 years' experience in the area.

Significant clients Coalition of Sports Organizations.

Band 3 | Bryan Cave LLP

第三等 |

Basic facts about the department
Key office is Colorado Springs.

What the team is known for Multifaceted sports practice offering market-leading expertise in doping issues, and experience in stadium financing and other media issues. Counts nearly half of the US Olympic sport governing bodies among its clients.  

Work highlights Advised the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on drafting its updated code for use by many of the world's sporting bodies.

Acted for the St Louis Cardinals on the commercial and real estate aspects of its Ballpark Village development.

Notable practitioners

Richard Young is widely respected by sources for his expertise in handling doping issues. He is admired for being highly intelligent and for providing clients with practical advice, and he assisted WADA in the drafting of its new code.

Sources praise Steven Smith's wide-ranging knowledge within the sports area. His expertise includes broadcast agreements, stadium financing and sponsorship rights.

Significant clients Mountain West Conference, International Bowling Federation, PGA Tour, Pacific Coast League, USADA.

第三等 |

Basic facts about the department
Key office is New York.

What the team is known for Represents clients in a range of sport-related matters, including stadium deals, media rights agreements and transactions. Primarily involved with clients in and around the New York area.

Strengths (Quotes mainly from clients)
"They are firm but fair client advocates who provide not just excellent legal advice but also trusted business opinions."

"They provide unfailingly sound advice. I cannot think of any occasion over a long time period where the advice wasn't perfectly insightful, practical and intended to seek the proper resolution for the client."

Work highlights Represented Yankee Global Enterprises in its joint venture with Manchester City FC to introduce a new MLS franchise to New York.

Acted for Top Rank on negotiating and drafting pay-per-view television rights deals for certain major title fights.

Notable practitioners  

Irwin Kishner and Dan Etna are two of the practice's key partners.

Significant clients YES Network, Legends Hospitality, InterMedia Partners, Joseph Tacopina, Staten Island Yankees.

第三等 |

Basic facts about the department
Key office is Chicago.

What the team is known for Acts for a number of major sports teams on broadcasting deals, commercial transactions and naming rights matters. Represents clients in a range of sports, including handling notable work for NBA teams.

Strengths (Quotes mainly from clients)
"They've got extraordinary knowledge of the industries and creativity in resolving matters."

"What really separates them from other people is they make you feel like you're their only client, part of the team."

"They're amazingly fast but also pay attention to every single detail."

Work highlights Acted for Sacramento Basketball Holdings on its purchase of a controlling stake in the NBA's Sacramento Kings franchise.

Represented Philadelphia Union in a strategic partnership relating to a youth development scheme. 

Notable practitioners  

Adam Klein is a "just outstanding" sports practitioner praised for his "command of the room" and "speed of response." He is particularly highly rated for his expertise in broadcast rights and for his tough negotiation skills.

Associate Harris Eisenberg impresses sources as a "very responsive and efficient" practitioner who "has a lot of depth and breadth of knowledge and client skills." "He's going to be a superstar sports lawyer," said one client.

Significant clients Chicago Bulls, Chicago White Sox, Golden State Warriors, Time Warner Cable, Silver Chalice Ventures.

第三等 |

Basic facts about the department
Key office is New York.

What the team is known for Well-regarded sports practice acting on a variety of matters, including labor disputes and commercial issues. A strong team of experienced sports lawyers.

Work highlights Represented the NBPA in litigation brought by Billy Hunter alleging breach of contract and defamation.

Acted for Getty Images on defending litigation brought by a number of sports photographers alleging copyright infringement.

Notable practitioners  

James Quinn is a highly experienced sports lawyer whom sources can "rely on for strategic advice." He is regularly involved in matters for players' associations and recently represented the NBPA in its litigation against former executive director Billy Hunter.

Bruce Meyer is well regarded by peers and clients for his sports practice, which focuses on litigation. Recent work includes acting for the NHL Players' Association in disputes concerning hockey-related revenues.

Significant clients ESPN, StubHub, DirecTV, CBS, Providence Equity Partners.

Other Ranked Lawyers 其他上榜律师

Daniel Nash of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP is a well-known labor lawyer whose practice includes sports law. Sources say he is "a quality guy who knows the collective bargaining agreements backwards and forwards."

Charles Henn of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP focuses on intellectual property matters, often with a sports-related element. Sources say "he's quick on his feet in the courtroom - nobody can throw him a curveball."

Joseph Calabrese recently joined Latham & Watkins LLP from O'Melveny & Myers LLP. Calabrese is commended for his pragmatism when it comes to sports entertainment matters, with sources commenting also on his deep experience. While at his prior firm he represented Guggenheim Securities in the creation of SportsNet LA.

Sole practitioner Howard Jacobs is described as "the go-to defense counsel in doping cases around the world." He has 24 years' experience representing athletes in a variety of disputes.

Gregory Curtner of Schiff Hardin LLP is vastly experienced in sports matters, with particular expertise in student athletics thanks to his longstanding work with the NCAA. He has represented it in a number of suits relating to compensation for the use of athletes' likenesses.

Winstead PC's Denis Braham is highlighted by sources for his "breadth of knowledge and experience." His primary expertise is in corporate and real estate law, and he recently represented Houston's Super Bowl host committee in its successful bid to host the 2017 Super Bowl.

Foreign Experts

Foreign Experts are individuals with expertise in a different jurisdiction to the one they are based in. These individuals are particularly highly regarded for international and cross-border work. Usually, they will be identified in the jurisdiction in which they are based and in their country of expertise.

Senior Statesman

A 'Senior Statesman' is a lawyer who no longer works hands-on with the same intensity but who, by virtue of close links with major clients, remains pivotal to the firm’s success.

Eminent Practitioners

'Eminent Practitioners' are highly influential lawyers in a particular practice area who, due to managerial or client relationship commitments, are less active in day-to-day work but remain key players in the team.

Other Noted Practitioners

Other Noted Practitioners are individuals who have not yet been ranked but are seen to be active and accomplished in this area of law.

Other Noted Firms

Other Noted Firms are firms that have not yet been ranked but are seen to be active and accomplished in this area of law.