Covington’s dedication to the business of sports runs broad and deep. For over 50 years, we have represented major sports organizations, among them Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, NASCAR, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL, the UFC, the USGA, the USOC, the USTA, and the American Athletic Conference (the former BIG EAST Conference). We have also represented numerous individual teams and their owners, as well as prospective owners looking to enter the industry through team acquisitions. Sports industry participants regularly seek our advice for complex, industry-shaping legal questions covering such diverse matters as antitrust counseling, collective bargaining, copyright enforcement, financings, governance, litigation, media rights development, mergers and acquisitions, regulatory affairs, sponsorships, and state, federal, and international tax.
Covington represents a vast range of sports clients, including:
- All of the major US professional sports leagues;
- Domestic and international amateur athletic associations, including college conferences and individual universities;
- Individual teams and stadium/arena entities;
- Team and league owners, lenders, and investors;
- Individuals and groups interested in acquiring sports franchises;
- Television and new media companies, including League- and team-owned single sport networks;
- League, team, and facility naming-rights sponsors; and
- Municipalities and stadium/arena authorities.
So whether a matter involves an antitrust challenge to a management lockout of player-employees, the financing of a baseball stadium, the acquisition of a sports franchise, the launch of a regional sports network, protection against unauthorized online and other distributions of content, or the creation of tax-efficient structures for sports leagues to pursue media or international business opportunities, Covington has the in-depth and “on-court” experience on which sophisticated sports clients rely.
Covington’s lawyers - just like our clients - offer some of the best credentials in the sports business. Covington understands the evolving business of sports and the diverse legal needs of a unique industry that operates across several different legal disciplines. Covington alumni have served as Commissioner of the NFL, as General Counsels of the NBA, NFL, and NHL, and in other prominent roles in the industry. Following his 17 year service with distinction as Commissioner of the NFL, Paul Tagliabue has returned to Covington as senior counsel and plays an active role in the firm’s sports practice.
Covington is long known for its domestic sports work, but our sports practice extends well beyond US borders. We handle international sports finance and acquisition transactions (English Premier League representations include matters for West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Liverpool), as well as international media and sponsorship transactions (recent assignments include media distribution of NFL and NHL games in Europe, new media platform distribution for Formula One racing, and naming-rights transactions for European stadium facilities).
Operating as a single practice group across the firm’s London, New York, Washington, and San Francisco offices, Covington sports lawyers recognize how lucky we are to practice in such an innovative, entertaining, and — at times — hard-hitting industry. We bring that enthusiasm to our work, and we invite you to learn more about specific aspects of our sports practice by clicking on any of the links.
Covington’s sports team consists of more than a dozen partners and over twenty associates who dedicate a major portion of their time to sports-related legal issues. Many more of our lawyers provide specialized regulatory, legislative, litigation, and media-related support to our efforts. To learn more about our sports team’s capabilities and the resources available to you within the firm, we invite you to contact Gregg Levy (litigation), Bruce Wilson (corporate), or Jeremy Spector (tax).
- Covington developed and implemented the legal strategy that led to the NFL’s recently ratified Collective Bargaining Agreement as well as to the dismissal of an antitrust challenge brought by Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and others to the NFL Clubs’ lockout of their player-employees. The key turning point was the Eighth Circuit’s decision staying, and ultimately reversing, a district court order that would have deemed the lockout an antitrust violation and enjoined its continuation. The fast-paced litigation, led by Covington partner Gregg Levy, moved from filing of the complaint to appellate decision on the merits in barely three months; the settlement agreement and CBA were completed within 30 days thereafter.
- Covington’s sports transactional practice regularly handles team sale and financing matters. Covington recently advised Tom Benson, the longtime owner of the New Orleans Saints, in his purchase of the New Orleans Hornets and in 2010, the firm represented Christopher Cohan in connection with his sale of the Golden State Warriors, an auction that, at $450 million, yielded the highest sales price for any NBA team in history. Covington has been similarly involved in numerous other recent team transactions, on both the buy and sell side of the table, including recently representing bidding groups for the New York Mets, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, and Liverpool Football Club.
- Covington also handles event acquisitions and other types of sports investments. For example, we represented the USTA in its acquisition of an interest in the JPMorgan Chase Open and the negotiation of the related joint venture with AEG, in its acquisition of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati and related assets, in its investment in the Pacific Life Open and the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, and in connection with its investment in The Tennis Channel.
- Covington has the nation’s leading sports media practice, which combines the experience of our sports-focused transactional lawyers with specialized expertise from our television broadcasting, digital media, and intellectual property practices. MLB, NASCAR, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL, the UFC, the USOC, the USTA, the Professional Golfers Association of America, the Big East, and various professional sports franchises, college conferences, and individual universities all turn to Covington partners Bruce Wilson, Doug Gibson, Peter Zern, and their team of Covington associates for help in structuring and negotiating their television and digital media deals, including the launch of single sports networks and regional sports networks. Their experience in negotiating sports media transactions and addressing the evolving media landscape for sports content has provided a winning combination.
- When the IRS began to mount significant challenges to the way that new club owners were treating their franchise acquisitions for tax purposes, the sports leagues called on Covington. Covington’s tax lawyers, led by partner Jeremy Spector, negotiated and secured a major industry-wide resolution of the issue that allowed new owners to realize substantial tax benefits (including the amortization of acquired intangible assets).
- Chambers USA: America’s Leading Business Lawyers (2014): Our Sports Practice has been consistently recognized as a Tier 1 National Sports practice and our partners Ben Block, Doug Gibson, Gregg Levy, Jeremy Spector, Paul Tagliabue, Bruce Wilson, and Peter Zern have each been ranked as nationally leading sports practitioners.
- The Legal 500 US (2014): Members of our Sports practice, including Ben Block, Doug Gibson, Gregg Levy, Jeremy Spector, Paul Tagliabue, Jeffrey White, Bruce Wilson and Peter Zern have been acclaimed as leading experts for their work in the sports field.
- Best Lawyers in America (2015) has honored Doug Gibson, Gregg Levy, Bruce Wilson and Peter Zern for their prominence in Sports Law.
- Best Lawyers in America - “Lawyer of the Year” (2011): Gregg Levy has been recognized for Sports Law - Washington, DC.
- Intellectual Property Magazine: “Sports, Media & Entertainment Team of the Year” (2010)
- Forty Under 40: Partner Peter Zern was named one of the forty leading sports executives under the age of 40 by the Sports Business Journal in 2008 and 2009 and one of the forty leading business executives under the age of 40 in Washington, DC by the Washington Business Journal in 2010.