The latest tax filings by the National Football League and its collective bargaining arm, the NFL Management Council, show the two entities combining to pay three Am Law 100 firms a total of nearly $25 million during the 2012 fiscal year.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Covington & Burling and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison divvied up the lucrative outside counsel work for the world’s most profitable professional sports league, which is awaiting the resolution of one of its most significant pending legal matters: litigation with former players who sued the NFL claiming that concussions and other head injuries suffered during their playing days had resulted in long-term damage to their health. The league and plaintiffs reached a $765 million settlement last August that still requires court approval.
The New York–based NFL, through general counsel Jeffrey Pash, provided The Am Law Daily with copies of Form 990 tax filings for the league, as well as its collective bargaining unit, upon request. The filings cover the period from April 1, 2012, through March 31, 2013. A similar inquiry directed to a spokesman for the National Football League Players Association and the organization’s general counsel, Thomas DePaso, did not yield an immediate response.
Like the league, the NFLPA is a registered nonprofit and must file a Form 990 of its own with the IRS. As a labor union, it must also detail its business activities each year in an LM-2 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor. The Am Law Daily reported last year on the union’s legal bills as laid out in its most recent Labor Department filing, as well on as the firms that also benefited from the NFL’s spending on outside lawyers.
The NFL’s tax filing reveals how much Paul Weiss, a new member to its legal roster, is receiving for its services as the league’s lead outside counsel in its concussion litigation with ex-players. The firm received more than $9 million for its services during the NFL’s 2012 fiscal year, and with the concussion litigation ongoing, Paul Weiss’ tab should continue to rise.
The Am Law Daily reported last week that Paul Weiss saw its gross revenue increase 7 percent in 2013 to $934.5 million, while profits per equity partner increased 8 percent to $3.62 million. One assignment that Paul Weiss has handled for the NFL that isn’t reflected in those numbers or the most recent tax filings is the firm’s investigation into bullying incidents involving the Miami Dolphins.
Paul Weiss litigation cochair Theodore “Ted” Wells Jr. was recently named an Am Law Litigation Daily Litigator of the Week for his work leading a team from the firm that compiled a 144-page independent report detailing the locker room culture at the heart of the Dolphins controversy.
While it remains unknown how much Paul Weiss was paid for that work, The Am Law Daily reported last year that the firm received $3.6 million from the National Basketball Players Association to investigate the union’s internal business practices. That inquiry yielded another 230-page, Wells-led opus.
The results of the Dolphins probe have motivated owner Stephen Ross, a real estate billionaire and New York University School of Law graduate who bought the team and its home stadium for $1 billion in 2009, to voice support for a New York University School of Law white paper promoting civility and respect in sports.
Covington took the lead for the NFL when Ross bought the Dolphins five years ago. The firm has long been the league’s primary outside counsel of choice.
The NFL’s tax filing shows that Pash, a Covington alum, had a total compensation package of nearly $7.9 million during fiscal 2012. Covington itself collected almost $1.9 million from the league and received another $7.1 million from the NFLMC, bringing its total tab on NFL–related matters to more than $9 million. Last month Covington advised the NFL on a $200 million deal with CBS for the broadcast rights to a slate of Thursday night games.
Covington previously handled a $15 billion media rights deal for the league with ESPN two years ago. The firm, home to former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who rejoined Covington in 2007 as a senior of counsel in Washington, D.C., saw tax partner Jeremy Spector speak out last month to defend the league’s tax practices. (While the NFL itself is a nonprofit, each of its 32 member teams pay their own taxes.)
Covington is also one of several lobbying shops that the league employs. U.S. Senate lobbying records show that the NFL paid the firm $410,000 in 2013 and $415,000 in 2012 to advise on sports programming, community relations and disability and retirement benefits issues. Last year Covington’s gross revenue grew 1 percent to $657 million, while profits per partner dropped nearly 9 percent to $1.15 million, according to sibling publication The Blog of Legal Times.
In The American Lawyer’s most recent Litigation Department of the Year competition, Covington was a finalist in the general litigation category. Among the other finalists in that group were Akin Gump, thanks in part to the work of labor and employment partner Daniel Nash in Washington, D.C. (Paul Weiss earned top honors in the securities litigation section.)
The most recent tax filng by the NFLMC, the league’s labor arm, shows that Akin Gump received nearly $5.3 million for its work during its 2012 fiscal year. Akin Gump’s gross revenue rose 7 percent in 2013 to $828.5 million, according to sibling publication The National Law Journal, while profits per partner soared 19 percent to $1.8 million.
Proskauer Rose, another Am Law 100 firm with close ties to the NFL, is missing from the league’s list of top-paid outside contractors. For past few years the firm has advised the NFL on collective bargaining issues, leading the way two years ago when the league agreed to a new contract with the NFLPA after a lockout that lasted nearly five months. (Proskauer’s gross revenue still rose 4.3 percent in 2013 to $768.5 million, while profits per equity partner increased 5.4 percent to $1.95 million, according to The Am Law Daily’s reporting.)
The NFL’s newfound labor peace has led to a lucrative payday for its current commissioner, Roger Goodell, who took home $44.2 million in total compensation during its 2012 fiscal year. The NFL has publicly defended the pay package, which includes a $35.1 million salary, pension payments and deferred compensation from the lockout.
Goodell, the son of a former U.S. senator, happens to have his own Am Law 100 ties. He’s a younger brother of Timothy Goodell, the former cohead of global M&A at White & Case and current general counsel of New York–based oil and gas company Hess Corporation.