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Covington & Burling LLP’s ‘first-class’ team has a stellar reputation in the industry - as evidenced by the number of alumni to have served as Commissioner or General Counsel of the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) - and its experience cuts across all areas of sports law. ‘Class actPeter Zern and the ‘very impressiveDouglas Gibson are ‘among the best’ for sports media work: Zern assisted the NHL with negotiating the rights to the 2016 World Cup of Hockey for US and international markets, while Gibson assisted the NFL with renewing its contract with CBS for Thursday Night Football. The firm continues to serve as principal outside counsel to the NFL and Derek Ludwin is defending the client in antitrust litigation challenging the league’s television broadcast distribution agreements. Tax expert Jeremy Spector is leading advice to the same client on the challenge to its tax-exempt status. Bruce Wilson has a highly regarded international practice, while Benjamin Block, Gregg Levy and Paul Tagliabue are also key names in the Washington DC-based team.

Proskauer Rose LLP was at the forefront of establishing a dedicated sports law practice and its involvement in the area dates back over fifty years. Its status as a market leader was again emphasized in 2015 through prominent instructions from marquee client the NBA, which included the firm’s advice to the NBA on the $850m sale of the Atlanta Hawks to an ownership group led by Antony Ressler. The group’s exceptional transactional practice also has been called on by the NHL to assist with the league’s potential expansion to Las Vegas and Quebec City. The team’s full-service capability is highlighted through its exceptional litigation practice and it continues to defend Major League Baseball (MLB) in a long-running case challenging baseball’s antitrust exemption. While its excellence in professional sport is widely documented, the firm has also made a concerted effort in recent years to expand its collegiate offering; testament to the strength of its college sport practice is the firm’s advice to the University of Michigan on retaining Jim Harbaugh, previously the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, as head football coach. Further first-rate examples of the firm’s work include its advice to the Los Angeles 2024 Exploratory Committee on the host bid for the 2024 Olympic Games. Firm chairman and M&A expert Joseph Leccese, who is the ‘dean of sports law’, jointly heads the practice with labor expert Howard Ganz and litigator Bradley Ruskin, which also includes Wayne Katz and Jon H Oram. All lawyers mentioned are based in the firm’s New York office.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP’s highly regarded team is kept busy with instructions to handle big-ticket litigation. Jeffrey Mishkin, Anthony Dreyer and Karen Hoffman Lent are representing the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver in ongoing state and federal litigation commenced by Donald Sterling, the former owner of the LA Clippers NBA franchise. The group has a notable practice defending personal injury claims and Shepard Goldfein, who maintains strong links to the NHL, and James Keyte are part of a team defending the league in litigation initiated by former NHL players, which claims that the NHL did not inform players of the alleged long-term consequences of head trauma. Another flagship client is the PGA Tour, which the firm recently represented in litigation brought by professional golfer Vijay Singh pertaining to the administration and implementation of the Tour’s anti-doping policy. Named attorneys are based in the firm’s New York office. Thomas Gowan retired.

Arent Fox LLP impresses with the breadth of its sports coverage, which spans athletics, basketball, cycling, motorsport, ice hockey and soccer, as well as others. It has a particularly fine reputation for rights agreements and has handled some of the seminal deals in the space over the years, including recently advising Mercedes-Benz on a 27-year naming rights transaction for a new stadium in Atlanta that will be home to both the Atlanta Falcons NFL franchise and the MLS expansion franchise Atlanta United FC; the deal closely followed the announcement that Mercedes-Benz will relocate its headquarters from New Jersey to Atlanta. Other standout work included the firm’s advice to the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games Organizing Committee, which included assistance with corporate governance matters, sponsorship agreements, venue agreements and telecast-rights agreements with ESPN. San Francisco-based Richard Brand leads the practice, which also includes Matthew Pace in the firm’s New York office and Los Angeles-based Maidie Oliveau.

DLA Piper LLP (US) is unsurpassed in stadium financing and has an increasing number of international clients due, in part, to its global presence. In conjunction with colleagues in Milan, the US team is advising Serie A soccer club AS Roma and the Raptor Group on an €175m team refinancing and the financing of the construction of a new stadium. The group has received a string of instructions to assist with stadium financing in the US and advised the Atlanta Braves MLB franchise on several closings, which variously included: an amendment to a revolver loan to provide additional bridge financing to a new stadium development; Cobb County’s bond transaction and subsequent $370m contribution to stadium funding; and the $345m private financing by the team’s affiliate stadium company. The financing team is supported by a strong M&A practice and, in 2015, the team handled the sale of the Atlanta Hawks. Peter White and Frank Ryan jointly head the department, which also includes Reston-based Mark Whitaker. All attorneys are based in New York, except where stated otherwise. Since publication, Charles Baker has moved to O'Melveny & Myers LLP.

Foley & Lardner LLP has invested heavily in its practice and has worked hard to diversify its client base, while retaining strong ties to baseball, a traditionally strong area for the firm. On the M&A side, New York-based Irwin Raij and Milwaukee-based Kevin Schulz led advice to SWB Investors on the acquisition of interests in Minor League Baseball franchises, including one team which intends to relocate to Cuba. The group has impressive credentials in the area of college sport and is handling Syracuse University’s renovation of its multi-use football and basketball stadium, as well as assisting with an ancillary development; it is also advising the University of Miami on the potential development of a new sports stadium. The team has experienced an uptick in work for media clients and has targeted greater involvement in cross-border acquisitions to further develop its practice. It handled several matters for a sports production company, including assisting with attempts to purchase a European basketball team and advising the same client on a potential joint venture with a broadcasting company for the production of significant college sporting events. Litigator Mary Braza, who is based in Milwaukee, is highly regarded and serves on several boards in the sports industry.

The ‘superb’ team at Latham & Watkins LLP is ‘among the top firms in the sports and media business and has a real edge on international matters’. The US practice worked with attorneys in the firm’s Hong Kong and Singapore offices to advise Tencent, a Chinese internet and social media company, on a broadcast license for the exclusive distribution rights to NBA games. Lawyers from the Century City and Los Angeles offices are assisting MLS expansion franchise, the Los Angeles Football Club, with the site selection and planning of a new stadium in southern California. Joseph Calabrese - who is the global chair of the firm’s entertainment, sports and media practice - and Christopher Brearton are leading a team advising the International Olympic Committee on the creation of an over-the-top digital global Olympic sports channel. Litigator Russell F Sauer Jr is also recommended.

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP’s ‘excellent’ team is unrivalled for its work defending sports leagues in player safety litigation. The practice successfully represented the NFL in multi-district litigation (MDL) initiated by over 5,000 former players pertaining to alleged long-term cognitive impairments sustained during the course of their playing careers. The firm is also defending the Arizona Cardinals in the only concussion litigation proceeding outside of the MDL. The group has since been entrusted to handle further mandates for the NFL, including Brad Karp and Theodore Wells Jr being part of a team handling an internal investigation for the client into the alleged use of deflated footballs by the New England Patriots. On the transactional side, Justin G Hamill handled several matters for WME IMG, including advising on a joint venture with tennis player Li Na. Bruce Birenboim and Ariel Deckelbaum are also key names in the New York-based team.

Clients note that Winston & Strawn LLP’s reputation, particularly that of the ‘tenaciousJeffrey Kessler, ‘goes a long way in sending a message that you are serious and willing to fight’. The New York based team has a pre-eminent practice acting for players’ associations and was well positioned to advise on some of the headline matters of 2015, such as its involvement in ‘Deflategate’. Kessler, David Greenspan and Steffen Johnson represented the NFL Players Association in litigation against the NFL overturning the four-game ban imposed upon quarterback Tom Brady pertaining to tampered footballs in a game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts; the firm is now handling the appeal. Player disciplinary cases have become something of a niche for the firm in recent years and, prior to the Brady case, the firm acted for the Dallas Cowboys’ Greg Hardy in arbitration proceedings appealing a ten-game suspension for an alleged violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy; the ban was reduced to four games. In another high-profile matter, the firm is handling antitrust proceedings for a group of college athletes in a case filed against the National Collegiate Athletic Authority (NCAA) and five top collegiate sports conferences, alleging that the defendants restrained competition for players’ services; the matter is being led by Kessler, Greenspan and David Feher, who is ‘good on the details’.

Copyright royalty work is a staple part of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP’s sports practice, which is led by Washington DC-based copyright and telecoms specialist Robert Garrett. Garrett recently led a team that successfully obtained a preliminary injunction for the MLB and NFL in a case concerning the leagues’ exclusive rights to televise and retransmit games; the firm went on to secure a permanent injunction and consent judgment. The firm is currently appealing the decision to cancel the Washington Redskins’ trademarks. San Francisco-based head of the firm’s labor and employment practice David Reis served as lead trial counsel to the Oakland Raiders in an age discrimination case initiated by two former scouts, securing a unanimous jury verdict. Litigator M Sean Laane, who is based in the firm’s Washington DC office, is increasingly involved in sports disputes. C Scott Lent in the New York office is another name to note.

Herrick, Feinstein LLP has a well-established sports practice dating back over 20 years. The practice has strong credentials in boxing, in part due to the presence of Michael Heitner in the team, who has long served as an advisor to promoter Top Rank, but also has a diverse workload acting for clients from major and fringe sports. The firm is outside counsel to the New York Yankees, a position that is led by Irwin A Kishner, and is also assisting the World Surf League with its proposal to include surfing in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The group is increasingly involved with soccer at domestic and international level and John R Goldman represented high-profile lawyer and sports investor Joe Tacopina in an ownership dispute over Bologna FC and subsequently handled Tacopina’s purchase of another Italian soccer club, Venezia FC; New York City FC is another client. Testament to the firm’s commitment to grow the practice is the recent arrival of counsel Jared F Bartie from Arent Fox LLP; Bartie’s recent highlights include advising on a commercial agreement for a basketball game between the University of Washington and the University of Texas to be played in Shanghai. Daniel A Etna is also recommended.

Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP’s ‘very smart’, ‘talented’ group has an ‘analytical and detail-oriented’ approach. Chicago-based Adam Klein, who is ‘creative’ and ‘knows how to get to the finish line’, heads the practice. The firm, which primarily represents sports franchises and potential buyers, has an impressive client roster that includes the Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings and the Chicago White Sox. The team is advising the Golden State Warriors on its new arena and mixed-use development, which includes handling the debt financing of a land acquisition intended for the arena’s site. It is advising Miami Heat on a broadcasting rights agreement with Fox Sports and also handles sponsorship agreements for the same client.

Sullivan & Cromwell LLP’s team has maintained its association with the Atlanta Hawks throughout the various ownership lifecycles and has occupied unique positions on the buy- and sell-side of various transactions. Following the firm’s advice in 2014 on the purchase of a minority interest in the franchise, it was instructed in 2015 to assist with the sale and partial rollover of the same interest, while simultaneously handling ATL Investco’s acquisition of the Atlanta Hawks. Ivan D Deutsch and firm chairman Joseph C Shenker, both of whom are based in New York, are part of a team that is advising the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball on corporate restructuring and governance matters.

Much of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP’s sports work is focused on labor and employment matters, frequently for player associations and individuals, while it also receives a stream of instructions to handle litigation on behalf of broadcasters. Jeffrey Klein, who is chair of the firm’s labor and employment practice, advised top football coach Jim Harbaugh on his appointment as head coach at the University of Michigan on a seven-year contract worth at least $40m. James Quinn was part of a team defending CBS in several matters involving college sports, for example successfully representing CBS Interactive in a right of publicity case. The NHLPA is another key client and Bruce Meyer is currently handling several disputes with the NHL pertaining to the proper calculation of ‘hockey-related revenues’ and the impact on the league’s salary cap. Named attorneys are based in the firm’s New York office.

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