A graduate law degree is not many things. It isn’t simple or cheap, nor is it a stress free endeavor to earn. And it never leads to 40 hour a week, out the door at 5 o’clock career. A Juris Doctorate does bring with it the opportunity to creatively work within the constructs of a complicated legal system across a wide swath of subject areas. Whether you believe in the defense of the accused, the rights of single fathers, the fight for fair employment or simply enjoy the art of negotiation, there is a place in the field of law for you. On top of the emotional charge this challenging career generates, lawyers are also presented with the chance to earn a stellar compensation package. Skilled lawyers possess the right combination of brains, enthusiasm and pizazz to win in the courtroom or at the negotiating table. A lawyer in the sports industry is able to combine the best of two cutting edge, fast-paced businesses and has a variety of areas to concentrate on.
Much like other entertainment agents, sports agents often have a law background or, at minimum, employ lawyers to assist them. Unlike most professions, athletes and coaches are employed under legally binding contracts that often span several years. Successful agents must know the law; contracts are crafted around it. Knowledge of the law umbrellas an array of areas, many of which apply to the sports agency profession. Entertainment law is applied to contract negotiations, including deals with a sports organization as well as corporate sponsorship agreements. Agents must also ensure their clients receive proper usage and licensing payments on anything from use of video game likeness to merchandise sales. The application of labor law is also critical to agents representing professional athletes and coaches. Be an advisor during collective bargaining discussions and stay close to clients so terms of employment are not violated by overzealous coaches or general managers. And, with growing long term health concerns in leagues like the NFL, health law knowledge is becoming more important than ever before. A sports agent is truly a jack-of-all-trades, handling contract dealings, financially advising clients and being a watchdog for unfair business practices. They make their money on a percentage of contracts, often taking 5% or more from each player they represent. Knowing the law and how to work ethically within its constraints will grow your client base, raise your reputation and increase your income.
Working as legal counsel for a sports organization may not be a flashy sports career but it’s important in making the business of sports operate. What agents do for professional athletes and coaches, legal counsel does for sports teams. In-house counsel for sports organizations – for all big business in fact – utilizes business law, also known as corporate law, to keep corporations operating within the bounds of fair labor laws. In the multi-billion dollar industry of sports, remaining clear of legal wrongdoing and making ethical decisions is expected. It’s costly for a sports organization to put a team of lawyers on payroll strictly for advice and guidance. But doing so, as opposed to hiring outside counsel to represent the organization on an as-needed basis, is worth it. Legal counsel becomes engrossed in the business of its employer and is actively working to minimize the risk of lawsuits by current or former employees, athletes or otherwise. In-house counsel also advises their team during a league’s collective bargaining negotiations. Typically, a league’s commissioner leads collective bargaining agreement (CBA) discussions, but each team owner needs to look out for their own business interests. A sport’s team has this team of lawyers to be that guide. In-house counsel won’t handle lawsuits brought to the team but will manage the process and advice outside attorneys to get the best results for the organization. The work is intense and the results, good or bad, can bring with it major ramifications. Legal counsel for a major sport’s team is considered a top law job in sports. Learn business law and gather experience before going after the position.
Corporations, large and small, leverage sports teams to market their company. Whether it’s Target partnering with the Minnesota Twins or Fifth Third Bank’s affiliation with the Toledo Mud Hens, sponsorship literally covers the sports landscape. Corporate branding on outfield walls, jerseys, stadium seating areas, stadiums themselves and game broadcasts cost big dollars but tend to bring big results. Corporate contract negotiators are paid large sums of money; make no mistake, they earn every dollar. The lowly Carolina Panthers collect $7 million annually from Bank of America to brand their stadium. Contract negotiators don’t start off with deals to that scale but, once you locate a company that partners with local sports teams, you’ll find yourself handling sponsorship contracts and can eventually work your way to the big seat, negotiating multi-million dollar agreements. Tort law is vital for successful contract negotiators. The language is complicated and the number of words required to solidify even a simple deal is outrageous. But corporations that produce shoddy documents, prefer the ease of boilerplate contracts or fail to include certain clauses open themselves up to risk or lost money. Shrewd negotiators that know the ins-and-outs of corporate law will find themselves making lucrative deals that benefit the company they represent as well as their own personal career.