In the run-up to next month’s Olympic Games in Beijing, one piece of litigation that’s made a lot of headlines is a Central District of California antitrust and false advertising suit over Speedo’s new LZR swimsuits.
Swimwear manufacturer Tyr Sport’s complaint — filed in May against Speedo, athlete Erik Vendt, and USA Swimming and its national team head coach, Mark Schubert — claims the Speedo-sponsored national governing body for swimming has let itself be used to restrain competition. Tyr alleges that Schubert made factual statements promoting Speedo’s new suit and disparaging its competitors while failing to disclose that he’s a paid spokesman. Tyr accuses Vendt of violating an endorsement agreement by switching to a Speedo suit.
The Recorder recently caught up with Adam Brezine, part of the Holme Roberts & Owen team representing USA Swimming and Schubert. Their case was put on hold last month until after the Games, with the court granting them an extension until mid-September to file a reply.
The San Francisco-based Holme Roberts partner has done work on behalf of Visa and Oracle, but he seems to gravitate toward sporty assignments. At his previous firm, Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner, he represented the Major League Baseball Players Association in a couple of matters, and at Holme Roberts — which has represented many of the U.S. national governing bodies for Olympic-level sports — most of his sports work has been related to anti-doping issues. The firm is outside counsel to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, acting essentially as the prosecution for the agency.
The Recorder: So this Speedo litigation … how did you and your firm get involved in it?
Adam Brezine: The NGB practice is centered in Colorado Springs, because that, with Indianapolis, is sort of the nerve center for amateur sports in the United States. … I’ve been at this firm now a little over three years. I came here from Thelen [Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner], also in San Francisco. And I was in New York before that [with Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo]. The sports practice is really one of the reasons I came. I have really, since I was a young associate, jumped at doing anything that was sports- or entertainment-related.
This firm is one of the few firms, really, that has a deep and broad, real sports practice. … So the first big thing I got my hooks into out here, actually, was the Floyd Landis arbitration, which was in Malibu. … I was on that team for the California offices.
What other sports litigation have you been involved in?
[Landis] is a good recent example. … There’s a lot of nonlitigation work that relates to doping as well. And then beyond [that agency], that expertise is something clients also ask us for in, for example, sponsorship agreements. … Increasingly, of course, sponsors are worried about doping and the effects of doping on the value of their investment.
What do you do there? Put contract clauses in about that?
I’d like to tell you but I don’t think I should or can. … I think you could probably imagine.
In sports law, do you have to choose a side to represent and stick with it, like employment lawyers typically do?
Not as a formal rule, but really, as a general matter, we don’t represent athletes anymore. But beyond that, we do represent clients sort of all over the place: leagues and teams and sponsors. There probably are practices that choose a side … but we don’t really have that.
Would you want to practice sports-related law full time?
It would obviously be great. That would make me a very happy lawyer. Most of us in this office are litigators, and we have folks that come to us for whatever problems. … There’s a very lucky few who [can] claim that they do all sports work all of the time, but I’m not one of them yet.
It would be fun. [In terms of networking,] I’m keeping track of this industry anyway. It’s effortless. It’s fun to go to the conferences. It’s fun to talk to the clients. … It’s fun for me. Not to say I don’t find my other clients fun.
Do you have any other Olympics-related litigation that’s come up yet?
I can’t really say. … Most of the work that we do is not really public. … To the extent we work with NGBs and athlete-eligibility [four-year] cycles, this is the time when that stuff is happening.
Do you find different dynamics in sports law, among the parties or the lawyers?
The lawyers I run into, as a general rule, in sports they’re like a cross-section of the lawyers I run into everywhere else. …. There can be very strongly held beliefs on both sides of these issues. … This USA Swimming case is no exception. Fundamentally, the case would appear to challenge the way that USA Swimming organizes itself.
This is very important to USA Swimming and the Olympic movement. The industry is something that I really love and is something I would follow anyway. But I can’t say that there’s any lighter tone to the disputes.
What advice would you give young lawyers hoping to get into this kind of work?
The best advice I’ve heard, actually, is get good general experience first. It is very competitive. It’s sort of unrealistic to think that as a very young associate you’re going to find a way to practice a lot of [sports law]. … And then, stay at it. There’s really no substitute for that. … But that’s not really different advice than you’d have for somebody who would want to do entertainment work or First Amendment work or something that’s got a lot of cachet. I’ve been lucky. I can’t really tell people to get lucky. … But, as with the choice to move to this firm, sometimes there are opportunities that just make sense. And you’ve got to take them when you can.
Have you ever been to the Olympics?
Not yet. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for Chicago in 2016, which will, of course, be a no-excuses event for everyone.
[He mentions that his real sports-viewing passion is cycling, especially the Tour de France.]
July is the toughest month to get any work done, because it’s on, like, 13 hours a day.