SFIA Member Spotlight – Foley & Lardner LLP

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Wall discusses Foley & Lardner’s interesting role in the sports industry, and how the esports craze is going to impact sports as we know it.

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Michael Wall, Of Counsel

What is Foley & Lardner LLP?

Wall: Foley & Lardner is a large international law firm. We have over 900 lawyers in 19 offices across the United States, Europe and Asia who are practicing in a variety of areas and across industries that predominantly serve upper mid-market businesses.

When did you join Foley?

Wall: In the summer of 2017.

You have an interesting background, having worked first at law firms and then as a general counsel for a few high-profile sports businesses. Why return to law firm life at this point in your career?

Wall: I enjoyed my time in private practice early in my career and then was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to serve as general counsel for the TD Garden and Boston Bruins for 13 years and for Performance Sports Group, the manufacturer of Bauer hockey, Easton baseball and Cascade/Maverik lacrosse equipment, for the last nine years.  Foley has one of the top sports practice groups in the country and I was attracted to it, as I thought it would offer the platform to allow me to continue my sports law practice from a different vantage point.  Having worked as general counsel for so many years within sports-related organizations, I can apply my inside perspective and knowledge to serve Foley’s existing sports clients and, hopefully, be of assistance to new clients–especially businesses that are professional sports franchises, sports and entertainment facilities or sports equipment and apparel companies.  Foley’s sports industry professionals have experience that is wide and deep and I’m grateful to have the chance to join this team

What kind of work does Foley & Lardner do in the sports industry?

Wall: Foley’s sports law industry practice group consists of more than 50 lawyers in offices all over the country who have formidable experience handling complex matters across the sector, including professional franchise acquisitions and sales, media rights deals, facility financing, construction, development and operations. We represent a wide variety of clients ranging from the governing bodies in sports (MLB, NBA, USGA, NCAA) to professional sports teams in the five major professional sports, including the Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaquars, New York Jets, Los Angeles Football Club and Milwaukee Bucks. We also advise investors such as the Ricketts family in their purchase of the Chicago Cubs and a major investor in Derek Jeter’s group that recently acquired the Miami Marlins.

As the sports and fitness industry continues to evolve, it is more important than ever to have that deep understanding of sports and a wide range of experience and expertise to serve your clients.

How is the sports and fitness industry evolving?

Wall: We see growing interplay between our firm’s practice groups and sports in areas like technology, medical devices and healthcare.

For example, esports is one of the hottest areas right now. It is a form of competition involving multiplayer video gaming played for spectators.  The competition typically takes the form of team-based games played in leagues or tournaments, culminating in one final event. The sport’s growth has been explosive and is expected to continue.  Our firm is well-positioned to advise the stakeholders in esports, given our experience in media rights deals, sponsorship and advertising, league formation and governance, and team operations.

We also are doing really interesting work representing a client that has developed a medical device that is a potential solution for mitigating mild traumatic brain injuries in sports.

Tell me more about the device and its applications for our members?

Wall: This client has invented what may be a groundbreaking medical device in concussion mitigation. It is a lightweight collar-like device worn on the neck. The idea is that it applies just enough pressure – sort of like wearing a necktie – to maintain a small amount of blood in the cranial area. The increased blood retention can help prevent the “brain slosh” that occurs in a head impact and that medical science has shown to be the cause of brain injury. Once the device has obtained regulatory approval, it could have huge implications for sports safety.

Where do you see your field going in 5 years?

Wall: Legal professionals in the sports industry will be challenged to keep pace with monumental shifts that are occurring in the category at a highly accelerated pace. Fans are tapping into technological advances that are changing the ways they watch sporting events at home and in the venue and increasing demands on leagues and teams to accommodate these changes.  Outside the sports venue, many fans are cutting the cord and rendering obsolete the traditional sports broadcast model and the control that the leagues and teams enjoyed over their media rights for decades.  Meanwhile, inside the venue, teams are exploring the latest technologies—intelligent ticketing, virtual currencies, virtual reality, augmented reality—to continue to attract patrons.  As I mentioned before, esports is here to stay and will challenge the supremacy of traditional sports over a young, worldwide audience, and traditional sports stakeholders in the U.S. are contributing to globalization by expanding their international reach into Europe and Asia.  Reacting to these trends will require sports lawyers to be innovative in approach, international in scope and adaptive to accelerating change over the next five years and beyond.

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