What is a sports lawyer and how do you become one?

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What is a sports lawyer? Learn how to build a career as a sports lawyer in this feature-length guide and webinar.
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What is a sports lawyer and how do you become one?

Sports organizations offer an exciting career path for lawyers, with a wide range of work on offer and all the exciting benefits that come from working with and alongside athletes, owners and fans. We discussed the best way to become a sports lawyer, and the day-to-day work you'd encounter, with an expert panel including:

  • Alex Scudamore, GC, Wimbledon
  • John Hand, Senior Legal Counsel, Mercedes F1
  • Sophie Hosking, UK Head of Legal, Cazoo

They discuss their roles and responsibilities, including sponsorship agreements, brand protection, IP protection, data protection, and managing different stakeholders. They also share their pathways into working for sports organizations and the appeal of combining law with their passion for sports. The panel emphasizes the importance of strategic partnerships and the complexity of commercial arrangements in the sports industry.

Sports lawyer need-to-knows

  • Working for a sports organization offers a unique blend of general commercial law and a passion for sports.
  • In-house lawyers in sports organizations handle a wide range of legal matters, including sponsorship agreements, brand protection, IP protection, and data protection.
  • Managing different stakeholders and maintaining strategic partnerships are crucial in the sports industry.
  • The sports industry is heavily monetized, and the success of partnerships directly impacts the financial success of the organization.
  • There is a growing trend of sports organizations bringing legal teams in-house while still relying on external counsel.
  • Combining a legal career with a background in sports can open doors to opportunities in the sports law field.

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Sports lawyer panellist introductions

Tom Bangay: This session is about how to build an in-house legal career at a sports organization. And the panel told me in our prep call that all legal jobs are equally uncool. But I do slightly disagree. I do think some jobs are slightly cooler than others. And I think working for a cool sports organization is definitely a cool kind of in-house job. So we're recording this, but only for members who couldn't make it at this time. And as always, you can put your questions in the chat if you have any questions for the panel. So this is what we're gonna cover today: just how to get into this kind of job, what it's like working for a sports organization, lessons learned, and Q&A. Questions are very much encouraged, so put them in the chat. Although if you ask about things like athletes' weird contracts and stuff like that, I don't think the team are gonna be willing to discuss. I'm gonna let the panel introduce themselves in a second. We have Alex, John, and Sophie. All of you work for really cool places and have done really cool things. So Alex, if I could start with you, can you just give us a brief intro?

Alex: Yes, hello everyone. Really good to be here. So yes, I'm Alex and I'm Wimbledon's general counsel. And when I say Wimbledon, the full name is the All England Lawn Tennis Club. So that's a bit more of a mouthful. So I've been there four years. Before that, I was at a sports marketing agency called CSM. And then prior to that, I was in private practice in a city law firm called Macfarlanes. My role day-to-day is extremely varied. It's a very small legal team. And before I joined, they actually didn't have a permanent in-house lawyer, which is always quite surprising. So I don't know if you want me to go into a bit about what I...

Tom Bangay: I'm also fascinated how they made it for like decades, hundreds of years without an in-house lawyer. That's insane. But yeah, if you could describe your day-to-day a little bit, that'd be really great.

Alex: Yeah. So I sit across all departments in the business. And the interesting thing with Wimbledon is that it's a private members club, but it's also a two-week, huge Grand Slam. So my main role focuses on partnership contracts. That could be your sponsorship agreements, your broadcast agreements. And then there are your supplier deals, which are obviously extremely important. A lot of my time is spent on general brand protection work. Obviously, we've got a huge trademark portfolio. People like to try and piggyback off the Wimbledon brand, so there's a lot of work that goes into the IP protection. And then I'd say the other key area is data protection. So we are very much growing our online database. We've got a lot of individuals that not only attend Wimbledon, but they are now sitting, you know, within our system. So we hold a lot of personal data. So they're the kind of the key areas.

I think the interesting thing at Wimbledon is that there's a lot of, and actually in sport in general, there's a lot of different stakeholders that you've got to protect. It's not only Wimbledon, that business, it's our partners, it's the players. So you're always trying to balance different interests there. And I think in a sport, which is fair to say is quite fragmented, the sport of tennis is quite fragmented. There's a lot of different bodies, there's a lot of private organizations, there's governing bodies. There's always a real balance. So yeah, they would be my key areas.

Tom Bangay: Thank you very much, Alex. And then I think let's ask John. I think John works for an F1 team. I can't work out which one based on what you're wearing, John.

John: I'm legally obliged to wear a kit whenever I'm in front of any other than two people. So here it is. And everybody loves a bit of stash. So definitely wouldn't miss out on that. Hi, guys. I'm John. I'm a senior at the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 team, if you haven't already guessed. I trained and qualified at Freshfields quite a little while ago now, spent about four years qualified in their commercial and corporate team doing a whole range of different weird and wonderful corporate transactions, and then moved straight across to the Mercedes F1 team without doing in-house secondment or anything like that in the meantime. And I've been working with Mercedes for about the past three years or so just over.

Tom Bangay: Very cool, John. Thank you. And Sophie, you work at Cazoo, which is the most high profile sponsor of sporting events in the world, I would say, but also you have a background in the FA and some interesting hobbies as well. Can you give us a quick rundown?

Sophie: Yeah, sure. Hi everyone. I'm Sophie. As Tom says, hopefully you all have seen our branding on some sports shirts or on a backdrop or LED perimeter board somewhere watching sport. I'm at Cazoo. I head up the UK legal team here. We've obviously done a huge amount of sports sponsorship as part of our scaling up and our brand awareness. I've been at Cazoo for just over a year and before that I was at the FA sitting in the commercial legal team there. So did obviously lots of sports work there across a broad range of things, sponsorship, broadcast, the provision of suppliers and lots of contractual work as well as IP and data protection, as Alex has said. And prior to that, I was at Freshfields where I trained and qualified into the IP team there. So that was kind of my foundation in law on the IP side, both sort of soft IP and a bit of hard IP on the patent side as well.

Tom Bangay: Thanks very much, Sophie. And side hustle, because you're very modest. Sophie won an Olympic gold medal in 2012, which I've not done that. I don't know if anyone else on the call has done that, but probably quite rare in the group. So congrats. Let's stay with you, Sophie, because probably you're, it seems kind of obvious, given your sporting background, you ended up at the FA, but how did you end up in that role? Do you have any kind of inclination that you wanted to work for a sporting organization?

Sophie: Yeah, I think one of the reasons why I went into law in the first place after finishing being an athlete was I saw it was, I suppose, a profession that could open doors into other areas. And so whilst I wasn't set on working for a rights holder specifically, I knew that it was a way that I could sort of find my way back into sport, albeit not directly connected to the athlete side. And one of the draws of IP was definitely that it was kind of a grounding. It doesn't need to be the only grounding for a sports law career, although there's a bit of a misnomer, which we'll probably get onto around there not being such a thing as sports law. But, you know, that kind of brand side of things is obviously really, really important for rights holders. And that's effectively a lot of how you monetize the position as a rights holder.

And so that was definitely something I had in the back of my mind when I was choosing kind of where I wanted to qualify. And then it was also a bit of taking opportunities that came along. And I think that there were probably a limited number of jobs in the sports market for a lawyer. But I do think that's something that's increasing. You're seeing a lot more rights holders bringing teams in-house and sort of relying on the in-house teams as well as external councils. I think that is growing. So it was a bit of engineering and a bit of also taking the opportunities that kind of presented themselves as well when I was looking to make the move from private practice.

Sports sponsorship agreements and commercial partners

Tom Bangay: Very nice. Yeah, I think probably seems obvious in hindsight. But I think one thing that came up across all of your rundowns there of kind of your jobs is obviously sponsorship agreements and those agreements with commercial partners. Like just for my info, maybe John, because you're at the top of my screen, like how big a job is that? How much of your time in that kind of role is spent working on those sponsor arrangements?

John: Yeah, I mean, Alex has already alluded to the fact that you have a lot of different stakeholders when you're in this sort of role and our partners are clearly critical. I mean, you know, they're all over the place, right? I'm sort of evidence to that. And we need to look after them and that interaction isn't just legal, it's strategic and you need to work closely with other departments in the business to make sure that everyone's delivering so that you have, because happy partners mean more cash, effectively, and that's what makes the world go round in sport really.

Tom Bangay: Yeah, very heavily monetized sport, F1, it's such a complex world of commercial arrangements. Was that something, I mean, talking about your kind of pathway into work if you're an F1 team. Obviously you hadn't been on secondment there, so you just saw this cool job and wanted to go for it. Why were you interested in working for a sports organization?

John: Yeah, it was, I mean, I wasn't particularly looking at the even thresholds at the time. I was just sort of thinking to myself, well, if something cool crops up, then maybe I'd have a go and see what happens. And yeah, I was following law in sport, a plug for that, I suppose, and took a place for articles and other information and things about sports law generally. And it crops up on there and so, you know, there's probably one cool thing that's going to come up and it's going to be this. If you're, you know, as we've already said, doing general commercial law, but in an interesting setting, it obviously makes you a little bit more involved in what it is that you're doing. And if you care about the product, regardless of what that is, you know, if you're working sales, you care about the product, it makes a significant difference to what you're doing.

Tom Bangay: Yeah, that makes sense. I think it's interesting that like, obviously, most of these sports organizations are effectively businesses and it's a general commercial role but with a really interesting particular specialism. Alex, when you were thinking about this Wimbledon role, because I think it was head of legal and now you're general counsel, but you knew presumably it was going to be a solo gig and they had no one else, like what was it that attracted you to working for Wimbledon apart from the obvious coolness?

Alex: Yeah, it was funny because I think I also when I was in private practice before I went to the sports marketing agency and that was off the back of a second one. I wasn't I don't think in either of the jobs that I've been in before Wimbledon I've been unhappy in the jobs and actually the the last job when I was heading up the legal team in the sports marketing agency at CSM I think when Wimbledon came along it was just something that I couldn't I couldn't turn down and I think for me one of the key draws compared to the agency world was as a lawyer I was always slightly limited in terms of the stuff that I could get involved in. You were working for a business that was an intermediary rather than working for a rights holder which has the direct relationships with the players, with the sponsors, with the broadcasters.

So for me as a lawyer, that was much more interesting. And I always remember actually having a debate about, I phoned up the Law Society actually when I was working in an agency because I couldn't quite get my head around how some agencies were going. One step further and they would find themselves providing legal advice to players. For example, and actually unless you've got certain insurance or you're set up in a certain way, you can't necessarily do that. So for me, I think working for a brand with the reputation, I think it just, I think from my own interest, it massively captured me. And I think also the high profile nature of Wimbledon. I mean, people do sometimes say to me, what do you do the rest of the year? And I feel like saying, I sit around polishing trophies. But there's an awful lot, an awful lot to it. And I think also managing certain PR things that come up is also quite an important part of my role.

Tom Bangay: Yeah, that was going to be my next question, actually, because I used to work for an organization, I used to work for the International Bar Association, whose whole year was defined by one event, this big conference that everyone spends all year doing and actually, I think, generates 40% of the income from the one event. And it was always really difficult to manage the rest of the year and like how much time you devote to that one event. Like, are you already immediately working on next some elements of next year as soon as the previous one finishes?

Alex: Yeah, I think there naturally is but the nature of some of our big deals and when they're up for renewal, it's not just, you know, they're not one-year agreements, they are, they're agreements that go on for years and years. I mean, we've got certain commercial agreements that are going into 2036. So I think for me, I would say I have a steady workload year-round. I mean, a lot of it is obviously geared up to the championships, but there's also stuff like the IP protection that ramps up at certain parts of the year, but it still exists. And I think also for us, we're doing a lot more now with other Grand Slams. So collaboration. We've also got grass court events in Europe, which we play a role in. So there's stuff that comes up and I think there's stuff politically in the world of tennis, whether it's on a sort of regulatory side, tennis integrity is now a big thing. There's just stuff all the time.

This is an excerpt from the full transcript. To watch the webinar in full, click the preview at the top of this page.

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