A growing number of law schools are launching LL.M. programs that specialize in sports law, equipping participants with the skills and knowledge to work as sports lawyers and legal advisors to sports entities and sportspeople.
Participants will gain an in-depth knowledge of subjects such as the legal framework of sport, contracts for sportspeople, footballer transfers, applicable regulations, practical considerations of sports law, club management and the creation of supranational entities.
The new Master in International Sports Law Practice at Esade Law School in Barcelona is directed by Juan de Dios Crespo Pérez, an expert in international sports. “The sports market is slightly different than other legal sectors, and to be really passionate about that will boost your work,” he says, adding that an understanding of regulations, digital issues (e-sports, blockchain, cryptocurrencies and NFTs) and to be able to speak several languages would be an advantage.
For many participants, the big appeal of specializing in sports law is a genuine interest in competitive physical activity or games. “Many of us have dreamed to be a sportsperson at one point in our youth,” says Pérez. “It is also fancy, as you could be working with the people that you had admired.”
Sports law: a dynamic field
The sport industry is a popular and competitive field. “The industry is dynamic. Lawyers working in this space report that no two days are the same. Lawyers often work closely with those on the business side to help facilitate the business objectives,” says Greg Levy, director of the LL.M. in Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law at Miami School of Law.
First and foremost, you need to be a well-rounded business lawyer to succeed in this field. “The sports industry involves sophisticated high stakes transactions,” Levy says. “Lawyers working in the sports space need to understand many foundational areas of law including copyright, trademark, rights of publicity, business entities, federal income tax, labor law, and antitrust law.”
Additionally, lawyers working in this space need to have top notch transactional skills (negotiating and drafting) as well as an outstanding grasp of the business of the industry. “You cannot adequately counsel your client if you don’t understand the industry,” says Levy.
The Greater Miami area is home to four major league sports teams in American football, basketball, baseball and hockey. But many LL.M. students see a sports law degree as a passport to other industries. By specializing in this industry, lawyers will gain a transferable skill set, Levy says.
“After laying the foundation in business and intellectual property as well as labor and antitrust law as applied to the sports industry, students will develop important negotiating and drafting skills, including sponsorship agreements for sports venues, representation agreements for professional athletes, and a player services agreement in e-sports,” he adds.
Still, the lure of sports law is strong. “It would be safe to argue that a sports lawyer is the ultimate practitioner,” says Gregory Ioannidis, course leader of the LL.M. International Sports Law in Practice at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK.
“It is a niche area of a separate legal inquiry and one that requires enormous expertise in a number of different areas of law — anti-doping, football law, employment, contracts, broadcasting rights, human rights and intellectual property.”
The course at Sheffield is delivered exclusively online and it purely clinical, with emphasis on the effective advice to and representation of clients in sports law disputes. “We are strong advocates of putting the theory into practice in a real life environment,” Ioannidis says. “Our students work on cases with their supervisors.”
There are also shadowing and placement opportunities. One recent example includes the participation of LL.M. students at the Tokyo Olympic Games. When it comes to career opportunities, Ioannidis says the sky is the limit for his graduates. “They can practice sports law in an international setting and this is perhaps the most fascinating aspect. Or they can advise as consultants. They can work as sport agents, sport administrators, compliance officers and so on.”
Using an LL.M. to advise athletes and entertainers
Jeremy Evans in 2018 graduated from the LL.M. in Entertainment, Media, and Sports Law from Pepperdine’s Caruso School of Law in California. He went on to obtain an MBA and then founded California Sports Lawyer, which advises Fortune 500 companies as well as athletes, entertainers, models, television and film producers in contractual, intellectual property, formation, distribution, negotiation, and dealmaking issues.
Evans say a range of necessary skills are the key to success in his profession. “Negotiations, knowledge of the law, and an understanding of professional ethics all come from law school and experience practicing law,” he says.
Street smarts and relationships are important and the best sports agents and lawyers use both, but you need to be a lawyer before you can specialize, he adds. “Remember, relationships may get you in the door and possibly help keep you there, but it is the knowledge you acquire that will secure your position among the greats.”