Why Study Sports Law?
In 2018 the global sports market was valued at $488.5 billion and it is expected to reach over $600 billion by 2022! And with all that money at stake, the industry needs a robust system of checks and regulations to ensure fans, players, and clubs get the best deals and are not exploited. That's where sports lawyers come into play. They deal with everything from contracts to trademark law to tax issues. And while they probably won't get the same adoration as our favorite sports stars, they play a crucial role in making sure we can enjoy the games and sporting events that we love so much. So here's what you need to know about studying and working in sports law.
What does a sports lawyer do?
Sports lawyers represent the legal interests of their clients, which can include individual players, athletes, coaching staff, and even entire teams. It's their job to take care of the stuff that happens off the pitch, ensuring their clients can remain 100% focused on their performances. After all, top-level sport is a high-pressure environment where the smallest margins can make a huge difference. Every year two English football teams face each other in a playoff game to reach the Premiership (the highest division in English football). That one-off match is worth an estimated £300 million for the winner!
Keeping your eyes on the prize is a crucial part of sporting success. That's why sporting lawyers help secure and negotiate contracts, facilitate sponsorship deals, resolve labor disputes, and fight their client's corners when it comes to any internal issues with their clubs. They will even defend their clients in court against criminal charges, as well as in lawsuits for breach of contract, harassment, or any other issues. Moreover, they often act as a spokesperson, shielding sports stars from the relentless gaze of the modern media machine.
Sports lawyers are also instrumental in setting up any business ventures or charities in the client's name. Former footballers David Beckham and Didier Drogba used sports lawyers to donate vast amounts of money to charitable causes in Africa, while boxer Tyson Fury's legal team made sure that every penny from his bout with Deontay Wilder went to the homeless.
Does a sports agent need to go to law school?
Just like any other type of lawyer, sports lawyers may need an undergraduate law degree for a few years at law school for postgraduate law programmes (Sports agents work a little differently and don't need any formal qualifications in law. However, this means they are not permitted to give any legal advice on contracts, sponsorship deals, or any other matters relating to jurisprudence. In other words, they can negotiate the best deals, but the ultimate responsibility remains with the client.)
Law school usually lasts around three years. And while online learning offers flexibility in some cases, the majority of sports law courses need to be completed in the allotted timeframe. You don't need any particular undergraduate degree to get into law school, although a law degree or a related program (such as political science, history, or philosophy) will definitely help you find your feet a bit quicker. Law school is taxing and competitive, especially if you're talented enough to land a place at the top institutes. So get ready for lots of reading, some rigorous exams, and plenty of interesting debates with your fellow classmates and lecturers.
Tips on becoming a sports lawyer
So once you've got your law degree, how do you become a sports lawyer? The first thing you will need is some experience, and it doesn't have to be in sports law. A short tenure working in litigation, employment law, or commercial law will look great on your CV, and you will start to learn how law functions. Moreover, you can start building up a reputation and a valuable network of contacts. You can then put out the word that you're interested in sports law. Do it right, and it won't be long before an opportunity presents itself.
Alternatively, you can go right to the source by writing emails and letters to sport law firms, clubs, or agents. You will need to strike the right balance between enthusiasm and professionalism. For example, you want them to know you love sports, but not at the expense of illustrating your professional expertise. Internships, work experience placements, and secondments are also great ways to get a foot in the door.
Darren Heitner is the CEO of Heitner Legal, a specialist sports law firm that focuses on entertainment and intellectual property law, and he's also the author of How to Play the Game: What Every Sports Attorney Needs to Know. When asked what advice he'd give to aspiring sports lawyers, he said, "If you are searching for a "Sports Law job," then you are doing it wrong. [...] Become an experienced practitioner, first and foremost. And always be building your brand. Do whatever you can to network with those in the sports industry while also showing off your expertise in a particular part of the small sports business world."
Different types of sports law
Sports is a global industry worth billions of dollars. With that much money at stake, contract law is essential. Contracts ensure players are treated fairly, and that they understand their responsibilities to the sport, especially if they are a global superstar. For example, many clubs insert morality clauses into contacts, which give them the right to withhold wages or even terminate the deal if the player's actions are seen to bring the organization into disrepute. But contracts also make sure big-name players are protected and rewarded. This could include extra financial incentives for points scored, assists created, or appearances made.
Stars can make colossal money lending their names to products. Moreover, companies can boost sales or brand awareness through association with well-known clubs or athletes. Intellectual property rights are there to facilitate fair deals between players and sponsors, as well as litigating against anybody who uses a star's name without permission or misrepresents them in a negative manner.
An injury can sideline an athlete for weeks or maybe even months. A nasty injury can also end a professional's sporting dreams forever. Sports lawyers can represent their client in compensation claims, helping players land a big settlement to bridge the gap between the end of one career and the start of another. Sports lawyers may file a suit against the player's current employer or a third party responsible for a career-ending tackle. This is exactly what Alex McKinnon did; the Aussie-rules football player sued a rival player following a bad tackle, which led to life-changing spinal injuries.
Sports lawyers help teams find new owners, source funds to prevent winding down orders, or assist in setting up new clubs or franchises. A group of sports lawyers is currently working with David Beckham to get his MLS franchise ready for a 2020 debut, which includes navigating many regulations to find a temporary stadium while also negotiating deals to build a brand new one by 2022.
Do sports lawyers make good money?
Three years at law school can be expensive. Thankfully, once you've qualified, it should not be too long before you start seeing a return on your investment. Sports Lawyers typically make around $65,084 a year, while top earners can take home as much as $147,000. Location, experience, and skillset are the major factors which push up one's earnings in this field.
Becoming a sports lawyer takes much hard work, dedication, and focus. But the rewards are well worth it! Not only will you earn a decent salary, but you will also be part of a global phenomenon that brings joy to billions around the world...
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After graduating with a degree in English literature and creative writing, Ashley worked as a bartender, insurance broker, and teacher. He became a full-time freelance writer in 2016. He lives and writes in Manchester, England.