(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty)
CORRECTION: 5/19/14, 2:55 p.m. EDT. A previous version of this story misidentified Ray Senkowski as a former Wiley Rein partner. He is the son of a partner at the firm. We regret the error.
Major League Soccer took a big step in its quest to reach the upper echelon of professional sports this week, tapping Proskauer Rose to advise on an eight-year, $720 million media rights deal with ESPN, FOX and Univision.
The 18-year-old league, which a decade ago was at risk of folding, has been on a growth spurt in recent years. The trio of network agreements reached this week will pay MLS roughly $90 million per year—with ESPN and FOX paying $75 million and Univision picking up the remainder—or about five times what the league already receives from current broadcast partner NBC to broadcast its games.
Joseph Leccese, named Proskauer’s youngest-ever chairman in 2010, took the lead for MLS on the negotiations with the networks along with corporate associate Frank Saviano. Leccese did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday about the landmark deal for the league that will run from 2015 to 2022.
Proskauer has enjoyed a long relationship with New York–based MLS, advising the league on collective bargaining negotiations with players, antitrust litigation and last month the addition of its 22nd franchise in Atlanta through a roughly $70 million expansion deal with Home Depot billionaire Arthur Blank, which also led to roles for King & Spalding and DLA Piper, according to sibling publication the Daily Report. The new as-yet-unnamed Atlanta expansion team is just one of four announced by MLS.
Earlier this year, Proskauer corporate partner Jon Oram and litigation partner Bradley Ruskin advised the league on an agreement to bring a team back to Miami under the ownership of retired soccer star David Beckham and Bolivian billionaire Marcelo Claure. (Proskauer helped bring Beckham to MLS back in 2006 in what would turn out to be a $255 million deal by the time of its conclusion in 2012.) Last year the firm advised on the $68 million sale of the Columbus Crew to new ownership, as well as a $100 million deal that yielded roles for six Am Law 100 firms to bring a second team to the New York metropolitan area.
The New York franchise, which has adopted the moniker New York City FC, will begin play next year along with the Orlando City Soccer Club, the fourth new expansion team whose ownership ranks include British lawyer Gary Mellor and H. Scott Bates, a litigation partner with Orlando-based plaintiffs firm Morgan & Morgan. Other potential MLS expansion cities include Las Vegas, Minneapolis and San Antonio. In February, MLS bought back the Chivas USA franchise in Los Angeles from Mexican magnate Jorge Vergara and plans to put it up for sale.
William Ordower serves as general counsel for MLS, whose president and deputy commissioner is former Latham & Watkins lawyer Mark Abbott. Another Latham alum, JoAnn Neale, serves as the league’s chief administrative officer. (The Am Law Daily has previously reported on Latham’s long-standing U.S. soccer ties.) J. Todd Durbin, a nonpracticing attorney, is the league’s executive vice president of player relations and competition.
But it’s not only attorneys for the league that are keeping busy these days.
Records on file with the U.S. Department of Labor show that the Bethesda, Md.-based Major League Soccer Players Union (MLSPU) paid $169,896 for legal services in 2013 to Sherman, Dunn, Cohen, Leifer & Yellig. Jonathan Newman, a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based firm, serves as general counsel and chief counsel for the MLSPU in collective bargaining negotiations with the league. (Sherman Dunn was paid $172,821 for legal services in 2012, according to a tax filing by the union.)
Robert Foose, the union’s executive director, received $287,075 in total compensation for his efforts last year, while staff counsel Raymond Senkowski took home another $97,586. As recently noted by The New Yorker, the MLSPU is coming up on an important year as it prepares fo ar new round of labor negotiations with the suddenly financially flush MLS, which like many other athletic organizations is benefiting from a surge in the value of sports-related programming.
Earlier this month, Comcast’s NBC Universal agreed to pay $7.75 billion to extend its Olympic broadcast rights deals through 2032, a deal that landed roles for Cahill Gordon & Reindel, Covington & Burling and O’Melveny & Myers, according to our previous reports.