ALM Properties, Inc.
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A Sporting Chance
It's been a busy year for Rana Dershowitz, general counsel for the United States Olympic Committee. In April she gave birth to her second child, and in July and August the 2012 Summer Olympic Games were held in London. In preparation for the Games, Dershowitz oversaw everything from athletes' rights to intellectual property issues, as well as the usual legal work of one of America's highest-profile sports organizations.
Dershowitz, a graduate of Harvard Law School, began her career in private practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, then was an associate at New Yorkbased entertainment firm Grubman Indursky & Schindler. Her first in-house gig was at Madison Square Garden Inc., where she handled both legal and business matters for athletic teams including the New York Knicks, the New York Rangers, and the New York Liberty, as well as Madison Square Garden Network and Fox Sports Net New York, now known as MSG Plus.
In April 2007 Dershowitz jumped from the Garden to the USOC, and a year later worked her first Olympic Games in Beijing. "It was an incredible learning curve," Dershowitz says of her initial experience in the job. "Our organization is covered by federal law [the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act], we are a 501(c)(3), and we deal with the entire world. When I worked with professional sports teams, my focus had been regional, and with for-profit entities. With this job, I've had to expand into nonprofit law and international law, where many of our disputes are handled in arbitration."
CORPORATE COUNSEL: How did you get connected with the USOC?
RANA DERSHOWITZ: I was a ski racer in college, and my husband and I were interested in moving west to ski and hike. I began looking for a sports job in Colorado, and I was fortunate enough to land this USOC gig in Colorado Springs. It all worked out perfectly.
CC: What are the biggest issues you've dealt with in the past year?
RD: We just resolved a long-standing dispute with the International Olympic Committee over a revenue share structure. Although the USOC is a nonprofit organization, we're only government-funded for a small piece of our Paralympic Games programming. Our revenue comes from public donations, a percentage of the telecast, and sponsorship. The dispute with the IOC concerned telecast revenues and sponsorship.
We also won in arbitration last summer over the IOC's ruling that any athlete to receive sanctions lasting more than sixth months over a doping violation would be barred from the next Games. We said this violated the World Anti-Doping Code because it added an additional sanction. The USOC is very strict on athletes who dope, but rulings must be within that agreed-upon code. The World Anti-Doping Association is now considering a rule like the IOC's for the World Anti-Doping Code.
CC: Are there particular issues that crop up more frequently in the months leading up to the Games?
RD: Yesfor example, branding issues. Rather than giving us funding, the Olympic law gives us very aggressive control over our brand so we can raise revenue for the Olympic team. Unfortunately, as the Games draw near, we see an increase in ambush activity, where companies that have not paid to associate with the brand are trying to do so.
CC: To what extent do you work with the Olympic athletes?
RD: Leading up to the Games, we oversee more issues related to athletes' rights, in part because we oversee the national governing bodies and federations for all Olympic sports. These groups run trial events under our supervision. If there is a dispute, we make sure the athletes are treated fairly. For example, in a recent track event there was a tie for third place, but we can only send three athletes. In that case, we worked with the national governing body [USA Track & Field] to make sure there was a fair process in place.
CC: Do you have a preference for the summer or winter Games?
RD: I think they're both wonderful. I was a gymnast as well as a skier, so I love the sports in both Games. But I also love the sports that get less exposure, like team handball or water polo. Getting to watch sports you wouldn't always see is really fun for me.