ALM Properties, Inc.
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David Cohen wasn't raised a New York Mets fan. but after nearly two decades with the team, seven of them as its top legal player, he's now among their most passionate advocates. "I grew up in South Florida when there was no professional baseball team around," Cohen says. "And becoming a fan isn't like turning on a light switch." Cohen started out as an intern in 1995, while earning his LL.M. at Columbia Law School. He was named the team's executive vice president and general counsel roughly a decade later.
While with the Mets, Cohen has handled legal issues related to the building of a new stadium, the formation of a newly affiliated network, and assisting in the representation of the Mets and its owners in connection with claims filed against them by Irving Picard, the trustee for Bernard Madoff's bankruptcy. The claims were ultimately settled for $162 million, to be offset by the value of claims held by the Mets entities and owners against the Madoff estate, and the trustee withdrew his allegation that the Mets owners had turned a blind eye to the Ponzi scheme Madoff was running. As the Mets celebrate their fiftieth anniversary and prepare to host the 2013 All-Star Game, we chatted with Cohen to get the score.
CORPORATE COUNSEL: What's a typical day like for you? Does it matter if it's a game day or not?
DAVID COHEN: Not as much as people might imagine. A game day is just a workday with a few more potential issues. One of our four lawyers is always present during a game. A game day is a longer day for at least one of us, but unless it's a particularly hectic environment, such as postseason games, it's not that different from a nongame workday.
CC: What are some issues that can arise during a game?
DC: Most people probably think that if someone gets hit by a foul ball or if there's a slip and fall, they call the legal department, but that's not what we do. Issues that might arise include unauthorized or "ambush" marketing going on somewhere in the stadium.
CC: What are your main responsibilities in the off-season?
DC: People might be surprised to hear this, but the off-season is busier for us from a business standpoint. For example, we would be dealing with agreements relating to the operation of the ballpark, or collective bargaining agreements between unions representing game-day employees. Sponsors have to be in place and sponsorship agreements in order so we can get signage up in the stadium by the start of the season.
We also handle arbitrations and negotiate the terms of settlements with players. That's a labor-intensive process, and if we're signing free agents or making trades, the legal department is heavily involved in those contractual aspects as well.
CC: Citi Field is hosting the 2013 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. What was your role in that decision?
DC: It's mostly just a matter of being selected. The terms, for the most part, are pretty standardized for Major League Baseball. Every team would love to host the All-Star Game. We see it as a great opportunity to showcase our beautiful ballpark.
CC: Being on the inside doesn't spoil the game for you?
DC: I'm always sort of keeping my eyes open and thinking about how the operations are running, but no, it doesn't ruin it. I was lucky enough to be at a game with some friends when Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in Mets history [June 1]. For at least that one night, I completely forgot about the business aspects and enjoyed it as a fan. Having an opportunity like that is really priceless.