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On a Monday night last fall, David Donovan found himself sharing a skybox with Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder. Snyder had just hired Donovan — a former Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr partner — as the team’s GC, and the two were in high spirits. As the Skins edged out the Dallas Cowboys, Snyder grabbed Donovan’s jacket and crowed, “Beats asbestos lawsuits, doesn’t it?” Richard Cass, the former head of Wilmer’s corporate practice, made a similar switch from law firm partner to sports team executive. After engineering a buyout for Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti in 2004, Cass accepted Bisciotti’s invitation to become team president. Now he sits at a desk cluttered with contracts, but with a view directly onto the Ravens’ practice field. “Part of the fascination is that people love sports and want to be involved in something they love,” says Cass of his move in-house. “It’s just more exciting.” General counsel, billionaire owners, and luxury skyboxes didn’t used to be major features of professional sports. But now teams have evolved into highly competitive entertainment franchises, and high-dollar transactions have transformed sports law from a niche practice into a lucrative field. Take football, for example, “What’s changed about the business is the complexity,” says Cass. “In the 1970s and 1980s, teams played football and sold tickets.” Now most manage their own stadiums, concessions, broadcast deals, and sponsorships. In the past ten years, the asking price for a National Football League team has gone from about $250 million to $700 million — $1 billion. The NFL’s television contract for the next five years is valued at $24 billion. The early 1990s saw a stadium-building boom that continues with speculative price tags exceeding $1 billion. Donovan and Cass aren’t the only ones getting close to the playing field: Wilmer has placed one lawyer after another with sports teams in recent years. Last year Wilmer corporate lawyer Alec Scheiner became general counsel of the Dallas Cowboys, and Sashi Brown became assistant general counsel of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jay Bauman, who left Wilmer in 1999, is now a finance counsel for the NFL. Former Wilmer lawyer Alan Ostfield is the COO of Palace Sports & Entertainment (which owns the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Detroit Pistons, and the Detroit Shock), and Wilmer alum Craig Masback is CEO of Olympic Track & Field. According to Wilmer co-managing partner William Perlstein, his firm “feeds to in-house” and has placed GCs elsewhere, such as Citigroup Inc., ABC, Inc., and The Walt Disney Company. Cass adds that even when sports teams fill in-house positions, “What most [businesses] are looking for are experienced, sophisticated lawyers.” A lack of deep sports knowledge isn’t a drawback, he explains: “What you’re doing at a team can be learned on the job.” Wilmer isn’t the only large firm with extensive sports connections, of course. The three biggest sports firms — Proskauer Rose; Weil, Gotshal & Manges; and Covington & Burling — established themselves in the 1970s, negotiating labor and antitrust matters. Today Proskauer is the go-to firm for basketball and hockey, Covington reps the NFL, and Weil works with players unions in all sports. “Suddenly there’s a fairly significant business where there wasn’t one,” says Jim Quinn, global head of litigation at Weil, “and so you have a lot of lawyers buzzing around.” Instead of establishing client relationships through labor and antitrust disputes, Wilmer gained entrée to the sports world through corporate work. One of Cass’s first clients was Texas oilman Jerry Jones, who tapped Wilmer to help buy the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. After that, a generation of Wilmer sports lawyers cut their teeth on Cowboys business. Over 15 years, the firm’s client list grew to include the Redskins, the Charlotte Hornets, and the Indianapolis Colts. The representations, in turn, led to the large number of Wilmer alumni currently in in-house sports positions. And while joining a team can be a smart career move for a lawyer, a lot of the attraction just lies in being a fan. Ostfield recalls that in June 2004, he jetted between playoffs to root for Palace’s basketball and hockey teams. “Within a few weeks,” he boasts, “I got to hold the Larry O’Brien trophy and the Stanley Cup.” Even the biggest asbestos win would have trouble measuring up to that.

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