Issues & Overview Sports Law: A 21st Century View

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 01:00

Whenever anyone asks how the practice of sports law has changed over the
years, we generally sum it up in one word - "money." The growth in popularity of
nearly every conceivable sport has created an industry that is among the world's
largest and most high-profile. And with that growth in popularity has come an
equal growth in the complexity of the practice of sports law.

Proskauer Rose's sports practice has been involved in many matters that are
illustrative of the evolution of sports law and many that have helped define it.
What began with the representation of the National Basketball Association in a
handful of antitrust and labor matters has since grown into an international,
multidisciplinary group that reaches into nearly every practice within the firm.
This growth has given us a unique perspective on just how the practice of sports
law has changed - and continues to change - and what is required of the today's
sports lawyer.

In recent years, collective bargaining negotiations between the National
Hockey League, the NBA, Major League Baseball and their respective players'
unions have kept the practice of sports law in the headlines for weeks and
months at a time. But what has gone largely unrecognized by the world at large
are the non-legal skill sets sports attorneys are required to bring to the table
on behalf of their clients in these and a host of other matters. A clear and
firm grasp of the law and relevant precedent is a given. Increasingly, because
these matters play out so publicly, today's sports lawyer needs to also have an
understanding of how the statements and actions of their clients will be
perceived by the fans and followers of the sports. It is, after all, these fans,
whether in the arena or stadium or watching on television, who have made
professional sports such a success.

And these "non-legal" skill sets are not required just in labor-related
matters. It seems that with the intense interest the media and public have in
sports and the business of sports, nearly every matter is high-profile, and
often controversial, whether it is the sale of teams, financing and building of
new sports facilities, arbitrations involving individual player contracts,
expansion of leagues overseas, licensing deals for leagues, teams, and
individual athletes as they become more involved with new technologies, national
and international television rights and even non-sports matters for owners of
teams and others associated with the sports world.

The Future

So what does the future hold? An even more pronounced intersection between
sports and technology - with more forms of mobile video technology broadcasting
sports and sports-related content.

Labor negotiations will also continue to be a hot-button issue. The growth in
opportunities for the modern player and the infusion of larger amounts of money
into the sports business will undoubtedly continue to influence the negotiation
of collective bargaining agreements and bring the public's attention to the
myriad issues involved.

We also expect these issues and others such as the financing of sports
facilities and expansion of leagues and licensing agreements, to name just a
few, to take on more prominence internationally. As they do, the financial world
and general public will take even greater notice and will help to drive even
more activity. And that, in turn, will drive the need for even more skilled
attorneys.

Although it's become a cliché to talk about how the world has become smaller,
one would not know it looking at the growth of the sports industry. The appetite
of the international public for all things sports seems to know no bounds. We as
sports attorneys are also sports fans and we look forward to the continued
evolution of the industry and the challenges it will bring.