Skadden has one of the preeminent sports law practices in the country. We have represented a wide range of major sports leagues — including the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the PGA TOUR, the National Football League, the United States Tennis Association, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer — as well as individual professional teams and their owners, in general litigation, player disputes, mergers, acquisitions, stadium financings, venue leases, corporate financings and project finance work. These high-stakes matters also have included licensing transactions, sponsorship agreements, real estate, intellectual property, antitrust, corporate, labor, insurance, player health safety, anti-doping and league governance issues.
Our attorneys have a thorough understanding of the legal challenges that can arise in the sports world and the best approaches for addressing those issues. We serve as a principal outside counsel to both the NBA and NHL and have been involved in nearly every major legal decision affecting these leagues for more than two decades. Additionally, we have played a principal role in many of the most high-profile matters on behalf of professional and amateur sports organizations and teams.
Skadden’s hallmark across disciplines is our ability to handle the most challenging issues our clients face, including many first-of-their-kind matters. Our sports practice is no different. In the litigation area, we have represented the NHL in multidistrict litigation brought by a putative class of retired players for personal injuries arising from concussive and sub-concussive injuries sustained while playing in the league, as well as the NCAA in federal antitrust class actions by Division I football and basketball players challenging amateurism rules barring compensation for student athletes.
Much of our corporate work draws on the extensive and relevant experience of our attorneys across multiple practices firm-wide, including M&A (team sales and joint ventures across multiple sports), banking (team sales and financings for the NHL), capital markets (Williams Invest Holdings’ €250 million initial public offering — the first-ever IPO by a Formula One racing team), intellectual property and technology (MetLife’s 25-year agreement to name the Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey — one of the largest stadium-rights deals in U.S. sports history), real estate (the lease for the NHL’s new headquarters and a new studio lease for the MLB Network), corporate restructuring (the Dallas Stars’ and Phoenix Coyotes’ bankruptcies) and project finance (particularly the construction of new stadiums and arenas), among other areas.
Skadden’s Sports practice was one of only three firms ranked in the top tier for Sports Law by Chambers USA, with sources describing our practice and lawyers as “super, big ticket, important business attorneys,” “really smart and very personable” and “thoughtful and strategic.” Our Sports Group also has repeatedly been named in Tier 1 by U.S. News — Best Lawyers’ Best Law Firms and as one of Law360’s Sports Groups of the Year. Additionally, the practice has been named as a Chairman’s Club law firm — part of the “dominant tier in sports law” — by the SportsBusiness Journal’s “Power Players: Outside Counsel” feature.
Additional representative experience includes:
- The Brooklyn Nets in two related lawsuits relating to the club’s termination of Nets season ticket subscriptions.
- Head USA, Inc. in its successful defense of claims by Bode Miller and Bomber, LLC seeking to invalidate Head’s sponsorship agreements with high-profile athletes. The court granted Head’s motion to dismiss all of plaintiffs’ claims.
- Madison Square Garden in securing a denial of a preliminary injunction against MSG’s implementation of a ticket limit policy.
- Major League Soccer in several separate enforcement matters involving the MLS’ portfolio of trademarks and copyrights.
The National Basketball Association:
- in defense of a wrongful death lawsuit bought on behalf of a former G-league player;
- and Commissioner Adam Silver in securing the dismissal of an appeal of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s lawsuit challenging a fine and lifetime ban — both imposed by the NBA after a recording of him making numerous racist comments was released to the media — prohibiting his involvement in the business operations or management of the Clippers;
- and the Denver Nuggets, the Indiana Pacers, the New Jersey Nets and the San Antonio Spurs in securing the settlement of New York state breach-of-contract claims involving the distribution of media rights revenue filed by the Spirits of St. Louis, a former member team of the American Basketball Association;
- in a declaratory class action lawsuit against the NBA Players Association and all NBA Players, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in connection with the NBA’s 2011 lockout. The lawsuit sought to establish, among other things, that the NBA’s lockout was not a violation of federal antitrust laws and that if the Players Association decertified or disclaimed interest in its role as exclusive bargaining representative of NBA players, and that action were found to be valid under federal labor law, then all existing player contracts would become void and unenforceable. Skadden also served as lead counsel defending the NBA against two antitrust lawsuits brought by the NBA players challenging the NBA lockout. In December 2011, the NBPA and the NBA ratified a new collective bargaining agreement; and
- in litigation in connection with The Basketball Club of Seattle’s sale of the Sonics to the Professional Basketball Club, an Oklahoma City ownership group.
- The National Basketball Association, National Football League, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball in the submission of an amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in which TV networks claimed that Aereokiller violated copyright laws by retransmitting their signals to users’ personal computing devices.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association in:
- a federal antitrust class action by Division I football and men’s basketball players challenging the NCAA’s amateurism rules barring compensation for athletes other than educational expenses; and
- securing a Ninth Circuit affirmance of final approval of a $209 million settlement of the damages portion of the “grant-in-aid” class action antitrust lawsuit brought by NCAA Division I FBS football and men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes. The multidistrict litigation, originally filed in 2014 against the NCAA and 11 Division I conferences, challenged NCAA rules limiting the value of an athletic “grant-in-aid.”
The National Football League in:
- numerous matters involving enforcement of the NFL’s portfolio of trademarks and copyrights;
- securing the dismissal of a federal personal injury class action filed by 10 retired NFL players, including Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent, who alleged that the NFL and its teams improperly provided prescription painkillers and anti-inflammatories to players through team physicians and trainers in order to push players back to the field, to the detriment of their long-term health;
- obtaining dismissal of claims brought by seven photographers against the NFL companies, the Associated Press, Getty Images and Replay Photos alleging that the defendants conspired to restrain trade in the market for the commercial licensing of NFL-themed photos in violation of the Sherman Act; and
- securing the dismissal and subsequent appellate affirmance of a federal putative class action alleging tort, contract and RICO claims in connection with the New England Patriots’ alleged videotaping of New York Jets coaches and players during a game at Giants Stadium.
The National Hockey League:
- in obtaining permanent injunctive relief in a federal Lanham Act lawsuit involving the rights to the Stanley Cup trademarks;
- as lead multidistrict litigation counsel and coordinating counsel in a proceeding asserting personal injury claims on behalf of all former NHL hockey players against claims that the NHL did not properly inform players of alleged long-term consequences from head trauma. Skadden also is taking the lead on all discovery-related matters in the litigation and has challenged the plaintiffs’ efforts to use the class action device to shield individual claimants from discovery. Discovery is complicated in this litigation because it spans a very long period, involving both e-discovery and hard copy documents going back to the 1950s;
- in a federally consolidated class action brought by consumers of online fantasy sports-betting websites FanDuel and DraftKings alleging purported federal RICO and state law violations;
- in the successful negotiation and drafting of a new collective bargaining agreement with the NHL Players’ Association; and
- in a class action lawsuit alleging violations of federal antitrust laws, including for conspiracy and monopolization, in connection with the NHL improperly eliminating competition in the distribution of live men’s hockey games on television and over the internet.
- The New York Mets in their successful salary arbitration against J.D. Davis, the first salary arbitration win for the Mets in team history.
- New York State Urban Development Corporation (d/b/a Empire State Development Corporation) in a dismissal of a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York filed by property owners who opposed the Atlantic Yards Redevelopment Projects in Brooklyn (which included a new stadium for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets).
- The PGA of America in developing the PGA’s integrity policy.
The PGA TOUR in:
- securing the dismissal with prejudice of a federal antitrust complaint brought by 168 caddies at the TOUR’s golf tournaments alleging that, by requiring caddies to wear bibs that often include the tournament sponsor’s corporate logo, the TOUR violated antitrust laws, the Lanham Act and the caddies’ rights of publicity;
- a litigation brought by Morris Communications Corp. in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals involving antitrust claims regarding access to real-time golf scores on the internet;
- securing the dismissal of tortious interference claims relating to the use and development of land adjacent to Liberty National Golf Course, frequent site of a PGA TOUR FedEx Cup playoff tournament; and
- a lawsuit filed by golfer Vijay Singh related to the administration and implementation of the tour’s anti-doping policy following an investigation into Mr. Singh’s use of deer-antler spray.
- Rory McIlroy in a lawsuit brought by Oakley, Inc., a former sponsor, related to an endorsement agreement between Mr. McIlroy and Nike, Inc.
- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in a class action brought by former student-athletes involving academic irregularities.
- Bruce Sherman as lead investor of a consortium that includes Derek Jeter and Michael Jordan in the $1.2 billion acquisition of the Miami Marlins Major League Baseball franchise from Jeffrey Loria. Upon the closing, Mr. Sherman became chairman, principal owner and control person of the Marlins. Mr. Jeter is CEO.
The PGA TOUR in the:
- merger of its affiliate with an affiliate of EZLinks Golf to create a joint venture, EZLinks Golf LLC, a leading online tee-time reservation business;
- acquisitions by EZLinks of (a) Integrated Business Systems and (b) Distinct Software Solutions and related debt and equity financings, including a significant minority investment by Providence Equity Partners; and
- sale of EZLinks Golf LLC to NBC Sports Group.
The National Hockey League in its:
- $140 million acquisition of the Phoenix Coyotes from Jerry Moyes;
- $170 million sale of the Phoenix Coyotes Hockey Club to IceArizona Acquisition Co., LLC, a group of Canadian and U.S. investors led by George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc;
- $170 million sale of the Atlanta Thrashers to True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd., which relocated the team to Winnipeg;
- sale of the Dallas Stars to Tom Gaglardi as part of the Dallas Stars’ prepackaged bankruptcy;
- sale of the New Jersey Devils and the Prudential Center by Jeffrey Vanderbeek to Joshua Harris and David Blitzer. in connection with the sale, the Devils restructured their existing first-, second- and third-lien loan agreements;
- sale of the St. Louis Blues Hockey Club LLC to Tom Stillman;
- sale of the Florida Panthers Hockey Club, Ltd. to Vincent Viola; and
- agreements with team owners and third parties regarding ownership changes, financing and league rules.
- Clients in:
- the acquisition of a minority interest in a Major League Soccer franchise;
- its acquisition of an option to acquire 40% of the Los Angeles Kings hockey franchise;
- the potential acquisition of the Baltimore Ravens;
- the acquisition of a minority interest in an NFL team;
- the negotiation of the proposed acquisition of a minority interest in the Los Angeles Lakers; and
- the sales of interests in major league sports franchises and related businesses, including regional sports networks.
- TEAM8 in its joint venture with the United States Tennis Association and Tennis Australia, among others, to form the Laver Cup, a team tennis competition between regional teams of top professional players from Europe and the rest of the world.
- Wes Edens, founder of Fortress Investment Group LLC and owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, in his joint investment with Nassef Sawiris in Aston Villa Football Club Limited.
Fox Entertainment Group, Inc. in its:
- acquisition of the Los Angeles Dodgers;
- $400 million sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dodger Stadium, a spring training center in Florida and properties in the Dominican Republic to an investor group led by Frank McCourt; and
- purchase of a minority interest in the Staples Center and the Los Angeles Kings.
- Anheuser-Busch Inc. in the sale of the St. Louis Cardinals, Busch Memorial Stadium and several parking garages to an investor group led by Frederick Hanser and Pulitzer Publishing Co.
- Ascent Entertainment Group, owner of the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche and an arena, in its $755 million acquisition by Liberty Media.
- Chelsea Limited and Roman Abramovich in their $248 million acquisition of the outstanding shares of Chelsea FC plc, a Premier League soccer team in England.
Churchill Downs in its:
- $73 million acquisition of Arlington International Racecourse, Arlington Management Services and Turf Club of Illinois from Duchossois Industries; and
- $47 million acquisition of the Fair Grounds Race Course, Finish Line Management and Video Services from Fair Grounds as part of its Chapter 11 case.
Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. in its:
- $300 million acquisition of a 40% stake in the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network (YES);
- sale of a stake in YES to News Corporation; and
- subsequent sale of an additional stake to News Corporation.
- Group Lotus plc and Art Grand Prix SAS, a Formula One racing team in France, in a joint venture to create GP2 and GP3 car racing teams.
- Jon Bon Jovi in his bid to acquire the Buffalo Bills franchise and other potential investments and joint ventures.
- Minnesota Vikings Football LLC (MVF LLC), which included the controlling owner Zygmunt Wilf and other investors, in its $600 million acquisition of the Minnesota Vikings Football Club, Inc. In connection with the acquisition, Skadden also represented certain limited partner investors of MVF LLC with a $190 million project finance credit facility provided by Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation for the partial acquisition financing.
- Morgan Stanley & Co. Inc. in connection with the acquisition and subsequent sale of the Seattle Mariners.
- Ourgame International Holdings Ltd. in its $35 million acquisition of Peerless Media Limited, the owner and operator of the “World Poker Tour.”
- An ownership group in its acquisition of a minority interest in an NFL team.
SIGNA Sports United in:
- (along with SIGNA International Sports) the formation of a strategic partnership with AEON and The Central Group; and
- its merger with Yucaipa Acquisition Corporation. As a result of the merger, SIGNA will become a publicly traded company. The merger also includes the acquisition of WiggleCRC Group.
- Sport Service Deutschland AG in its acquisition of a 90% stake in Frankfurt Lions “Die Löwen” Eishockey GmbH, a hockey team based in Germany.
Toto Wolff in:
- his acquisition of a significant minority stake in, and appointment as executive director of, Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.; and
- the sale of his remaining 5% stake in Williams Grand Prix Holdings PLC to Brad Hollinger.
United Talent Agency in various matters, including:
- the acquisition of a significant stake in agent Rich Paul’s Klutch Sports, which represents LeBron James and other top NBA athletes, and the formation of a UTA sports division; and
- the acquisition of two esports talent and marketing agencies.
- United Talent Agency and Klutch Sports Group in the acquisition of Revolution Sports.
Vulcan in its:
- acquisition of Portland Arena Management LLC;
- sale of Sporting News to American City Business Journals; and
- the sale of Sporting News radio station affiliate KMPC (Los Angeles) to Radio Korea.
- Williams Invest Holdings Ltd. in its acquisition of a minority stake in Williams Grand Prix Engineering Ltd., a Formula One race car team in the U.K., and the acquisition by one co-investor of call options over a further minority stake.
- Citibank as a lender in a bank financing for the Houston Astros and in the acquisition financing for James R. Crane’s acquisition of the Houston Astros.
Bank of America as:
- agent and lead lender in a $600 million revolving credit facility to 14 member clubs of the NFL. The facility is secured by substantially all of the assets of each borrowing club, including the club’s franchise in the NFL and its rights to television revenue; and
- structuring and placement agent in four tranches of term debt issued by various member clubs of the NFL. The debt is secured by substantially all of the assets of the borrowing clubs, including the club’s franchise in the NFL and its rights to television revenue.
The National Hockey League in:
- a series of capital transactions by the Nashville Predators, which included an internal restructuring by the owners of the team and a series of capital financings. Following the consummation of the capital transactions, a new owner was brought in to join the existing ownership group;
- two transactions by the Carolina Hurricanes, which involved several new owners and ownership groups being brought in to join the existing club ownership group;
- connection with Atlanta Thrashers financing matters; and
- connection with the NHL’s $225 million secured revolving credit facility.
- A syndicate of underwriters led by Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC, Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC, Canaccord Genuity LLC and Macquarie Capital (USA) Inc. in a $186 million cross-border public offering of Class A subordinate voting shares in the United States and Canada by Score Media and Gaming Inc., representing Score’s IPO in the U.S. and listing on Nasdaq.
- Williams Invest Holdings Ltd in connection with Williams Grand Prix Holdings PLC’s €250 million IPO of shares and listing on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Skadden also represented Williams Grand Prix Holdings with certain aspects of the IPO. This was the first-ever Formula One racing team to conduct an IPO at the time.
- Chelsea FC plc on player contracts, media and entertainment agreements, stadium lease issues, financings and intellectual property matters, as well as ownership issues and agreements with soccer leagues.
- The Los Angeles Dodgers in various corporate matters.
- An international talent agency and event promoter on ticketing, sports and intellectual property issues.
- An investor in On Location Experiences, originally the official premium hospitality provider for the NFL.
- The Ladies Professional Golf Association in its media rights dispute and ultimate extension with international rights partner JTBC.
- Liberty Media Corporation with the tax aspects of a tax-free split-off transaction in which it exchanged 60 million shares of its Time Warner Inc. stock (valued at $1.5 billion) for all of Time Warner’s interest in an entity that owns the Atlanta Braves baseball team, a group of craft magazines and $1 billion in cash.
- Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. in connection with a 142,000 square foot lease of studio space in Secaucus, New Jersey, for the MLB Network.
- A major U.S. professional sports league in connection with a soon-to-be announced sponsorship agreement with a gaming company.
- A major metropolitan sports and entertainment venue in connection with the anticipated renegotiation of a sponsorship agreement.
- Major League Soccer in negotiating and drafting the terms of a league-wide group license agreement with the players union.
- Major sports leagues and organizations with respect to league sponsorship agreements and the licensing of trademarks and data.
- Major sports leagues, organizations, and sports and entertainment companies on ticketing, event cancellation and return-to-play issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Miami Marlins in various corporate matters, including capital raises.
- Michael Winger in connection with his appointment as president of the Los Angeles Clippers.
- The MLB Network regarding a new studio lease.
- The NBA on payment rights and obligations under its existing U.S. national broadcast agreement.
The NHL in connection with its:
- multiyear strategic partnership with PointsBet, a premier global sportsbook operator, and a related equity investment; and
- sponsorship and marketing agreements with Ticketmaster, DraftKings, FanDuel, MGM and William Hill.
- The NBA and the NHL in creating league-wide disability insurance programs covering the salary of athletes in each league.
- The New York Knicks and the New York Rangers on multiple representations, including ticketing and related matters, defeating a challenge to both teams’ implementation of purchase limits for season tickets.
The PGA of America in connection with:
- various sponsorship and co-branding agreements; and
- return-to-play issues and protocols for PGA tournaments and for golf clubs across the country.
- The PGA TOUR on matters relating to its multiyear broadcast agreements with NBC and Comcast/Golf Channel, including strategies relating to extensions of (or replacements for) existing media agreements.
- A professional golfer in a negotiated buyout of a long-term equipment and endorsement agreement.
- The USTA, NHL and CAA in connection with ticketing and event promotion advice.
- Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network, LLC in its licensing of media rights to New York Yankees baseball games and New Jersey Nets basketball games.
Bank of America, N.A.:
- as agent in a secured revolving credit facility to the National Football League in connection with the G-3 Program; and
- in providing a $90 million credit facility to the San Antonio Spurs. Part of the funds were used to finance their new arena.
- CMGI, Inc. in connection with the naming rights for the New England Patriots’ stadium.
- FirstEnergy Corp. in its partnership with the Cleveland Browns, resulting in team’s stadium being named FirstEnergy Stadium.
- Fleet National Bank and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. in the $150 million construction financing of INVESCO Field.
Goldman Sachs in a:
- construction term loan facility for Audi Field, a soccer- specific stadium in Washington, D.C. for D.C. United; and
- Goldman Sachs in a term loan financing to provide funding for the construction of a soccer-specific stadium for the Nashville SC MLS club.
- The Los Angeles Clippers in an arena license agreement for their NBA G-League team, the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario.
- Madison Square Garden in its search for a new location.
- MetLife, Inc. in connection with its 25-year deal to name the New Meadowlands Stadium, where the New York Jets and New York Giants play, “MetLife Stadium.”
- The Minnesota Vikings in a development agreement and stadium funding legislation related to U.S. Bank Stadium.
The National Hockey League in connection with the:
- New Jersey Devils financing of the Prudential Center in downtown Newark, New Jersey;
- refinancing of the New Jersey Devils’ and the Prudential Center’s credit facilities. As part of the transaction, the owners of the Devils and the arena also entered into a series of transactions to consolidate and restructure the ownership of the entities;
- ownership and club and arena financing transactions for the Pittsburgh Penguins; and
- ownership and club and arena financing transactions for the St. Louis Blues.
- NationsBank, N.A. and National Westminster Bank in the $85 million letter of credit and loan financing of the Corel Centre, a hockey arena for the Ottawa Senators.
- NationsBank, N.A., The Sumitomo Bank, Ltd. and Fleet National Bank of Massachusetts as senior lenders in the financing of the construction of the Capital One Center in Washington, D.C.
- The New York State Urban Development Corporation (d/b/a Empire State Development Corporation) in the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards Land Use Improvement and Civic Project, the largest- ever land use improvement and civic project in Brooklyn, New York, the centerpiece of which was the Barclays Center, the home of the Brooklyn Nets.
- The senior secured lenders in a revolving loan facility to finance the renovation of Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Kansas City Chiefs.
- The Sumitomo Bank, Limited as agent in the $145 million financing of Comerica Park for the Detroit Tigers.
- The Sumitomo Bank, Limited and Bank of America, N.A. in the $155 million financing of the construction of FedEx Field. Skadden also represented the agent in connection with refinancing a loan as part of the sale of the stadium and the Washington Redskins to entities controlled by Dan Snyder.