Going for gold…

Sports and media law covers a broad range of practice areas. In this area of law, you may be dealing with contracts, intellectual property, torts or privacy. You might find yourself protecting your client’s intellectual property issues, such as copyright violations and trademark infringements, or handle libel, slander issues and data privacy matters.

This area of law is often considered to be glamorous and high-profile. However, the reality is that, more often than not, a sports or media lawyer will be concerned with the legal nitty-gritty, rather than attending highly publicised events and rubbing shoulders with celebrities. Nevertheless, it is still a very attractive area of law.

What does sports & media law involve?

As a sports and media lawyer, you will be providing advice on business agreements, contracts of performance, financial transactions, litigation and employee management and benefits. Lawyers will handle cases on defamation, libel, slander, encroachment on privacy, unsubstantiated allegations or declarations against individuals.

Entertainment law covers radio, music, television, films, art, theatre, books, websites and magazines. Your work will usually consist of providing advice on commercial contracts, intellectual property matters, content standards and employee management.

Sports lawyers can represent players, clubs, sports agents, regulatory associations or sponsorship companies. Sport is a seriously big business and, as a legal professional in this industry, you will need to be on the ball. You will often have to work on several areas of law; from telecommunications, finance and intellectual property, to negligence and privacy.

The working atmosphere in most places where media and sports law is practised is very informal, modern and friendly. This does not mean that work is not to be taken seriously though, as cases and deals will usually involve huge sums of money. Despite this, sports and media lawyers tend to receive smaller salaries than those who work in large firms where corporate, banking and finance rule the roost.

What makes a good sports & media lawyer?

You will need to be commercially savvy, outgoing, enthusiastic, and have your finger on the pulse. As a trainee and NQ, there will be a lot of grunt work like drafting agreements and contracts. It is vital that you enjoy interacting with people and that your networking skills are sharp. Much of your work may involve hand-holding celebrities and other high-profile individuals, so it’s important to be empathetic and patient. You will also need up-to-date knowledge on commercial matters, reputation management, intellectual property laws and precedents, criminal negligence and personal injury. Having a talent for advocacy will also be a great bonus.

You should be able to provide quick, creative and simple solutions to clients’ problems and thoroughly know the ins and outs of the media or sporting area you are involved in. It’s also vital that you are discreet, conscientious, and flexible. 

Luca Ferrari, Global Head of Sports, Withers LLP.

What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?

I catch up with any emails that I haven't managed to respond to overnight. I would normally have sent a number of emails the night before, following which all of the responses tend to come through the morning after.  Every morning I read the international, Italian and UK sports news feed, which is where I get many of my business development leads. When in Milan, I go to a café and read "La Gazzetta dello Sport" over an espresso.

How do you handle and organise/prioritise your workload?

I don't have a daily routine as I often travel and have to adapt my priorities accordingly. Generally, I try to avoid having too many emails in my inbox. When the matter is business-related, I like to act quickly and ensure I respond swiftly to my partners’ or clients' requirements.

What sort of daily responsibilities does a partner have in sports and media law? How does it differ from an associate role?

Firstly, I have to make sure that everyone in the team is efficiently ‘utilised’ and in control of their workload.  This allows us to respond to client requirements quickly. When formulating business development ideas, I reach out to a variety of associates to help me devise a plan of action. I ensure they are up-to-date with industry developments and have a firm grasp of the major dynamics that shape the market.

Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day?

By way of example, should a football club need to organise a friendly in the US during preseason, I would select the team. Typically, the main resource would be in our NY office dealing directly with the club Chief Operating Officer regarding the venue hosting contract and insurance. Other examples of my day to day activities include negotiating the terms of a management agreement between a sports agent and an athlete or perhaps advising a sports governing body on a sponsorship agreement.

What sort of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?

I deal with all stakeholders in the sports sector. We work with athletes, managers, clubs, agents, governing bodies, sponsors, rights owners, media partners and event organisers.

A day in the life of... Florence Child - Associate, Norton Rose Fulbright 

What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office? 
After coffee, I usually check my emails and make a to-do list for the day ahead. It’s increasingly common for clients, partners and senior associates to email across information during their commute, so there is a lot of activity between 9.30am and 10am.

How do you handle and prioritise your workload?
I’m part of the wider M&A practice, so my sports law work runs alongside this. I’ve started assigning different notebooks to different deals, which means that all my thoughts and tasks are consolidated in one place. They also provide a useful tool to refer back to after the deal completes.

What sort of daily responsibilities does an associate have in sports law? How does it differ from a trainee role?
I joined the team as a trainee in September 2017 and qualified in March, so it’s been a relatively smooth transition into associate life. As we’re developing the sports practice globally, it’s become more important to spend time with new clients and start building business relationships. I’ve certainly been more involved in this aspect of the practice since qualifying. Internally, I’m now responsible for certain work-streams (at the moment it’s the drafting of an SPA, a due-diligence report and negotiations on bank reliance letter) and spend more time liaising with international offices and appointed local counsel.

Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day?
We’re in the process of developing a blog for the sports practice. We’ve just appointed sports editors for each of the different regions (namely Africa, North America, South America, Asia, Europe and Oceania), so I’m working with the global team to agree on a plan for publication.

Topics must have some relevance to the sports sector and a legal or business slant, but otherwise, we’ve been given quite a free rein. We’re all busy creating content and keeping up to date with the latest sports news. At the moment I’m working on a piece about IP Rights at a south London football club and the impact of Brexit on the sports industry.

What sorts of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis? 
I’m lucky that the sports practice is very global and we work with clients in North America, Asia, Australia, Europe and South Africa. A few names you might recognise are Harlequins RFC, Hockey Canada, McLaren Technology Group, NEP Australia, Paris Saint-Germain and Southampton Football Club. 

As well as having a strong M&A presence, there is a lot of crossover with sports law and areas such as financing, real estate, bankruptcy and employment labour. For instance, in the area of stadium financing, we have done a lot of work with the Singapore SportsHub stadium and advised on the development of Citi Field (the home of the New York Mets baseball team). We have also advised the owners of the Silverstone motor-racing circuit on redevelopment and investment, and are looking to expand this particular area of work into India and Malaysia.

Last year, my supervisor Stephen Rigby led a team advising on the acquisition of a stake in Southampton FC in the English Premier League. The London team also advises the English Football League in connection with its insolvency policy and restructuring of insolvent football clubs. 

Our South African office is advising Caster Semenya in her legal case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, challenging the “Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification” of the International Association of Athletics Federation. Caster Semenya is the two-time world champion and two-time gold medallist in the women’s 800m event, so that’s been very interesting to follow. 

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