UPDATE: 3/11/2013, 10:00 a.m. EDT. Information on outside counsel for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers has been added to the second-to-last paragraph of this story.
A trio of Am Law 100 firms laced up their skates Thursday night for the sixth annual Lawyers’ Cup charity tournament, with teams representing Kaye Scholer, Proskauer Rose, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, and leading Canadian firm Stikeman Elliott squaring off at Sky Rink on Manhattan’s West Side to raise money for Ice Hockey in Harlem, a New York City nonprofit launched 25 years ago to boost the game’s profile with inner-city youth.
This year’s tourney was played the same week that Sports Illustrated dubbed Proskauer the most powerful firm in professional sports in connection with a "50 Most Powerful People in Sports" package that features several Proskauer alums.
National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman—who as we’ve previously noted here was once an associate at the firm—landed at number 27 on the SI list. As it happens, the league Bettman oversees, as well as Proskauer and Skadden, which have long served as its lead outside counsel, have sponsored the Ice Hockey in Harlem fundraiser since 2008. (Click here and here for our previous stories on the event, whose victor lays claim to the coveted Lawyers’ Cup.)
Stikeman, which advised on the sale of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs two years ago, took part in the festivities for the first time last year at the invitation of Proskauer and Skadden. Perhaps unsurprisingly given that Stikeman hails from the land where hockey was born, the Canadian squad won the tournament in their 2012 debut before going on to successfully defend their title this year.
Jason Crelinsten—a Canada-born corporate associate at Proskauer who sits on the board of directors for Ice Hockey in Harlem—says Thursday’s event raised $47,000. Also sitting on the charity’s board: Kenneth Ottenbreit, the managing partner of Stikeman’s New York office, and veteran Skadden corporate restructuring partner J. Gregory Milmoe, who moved with his family to Newfoundland when he was six before later playing one year of college hockey at Cornell with fellow lawyer and NHL Hall of Famer Ken Dryden. (Click here for a picture of Milmoe hoisting the Lawyers’ Cup hardware in 2009.)
Bettman presented this year’s trophy to Stikeman, which topped first-time participant Kaye Scholer by the score of 6-2 in the final game to take home the 2013 trophy. Crelinsten says that everyone on hand had a great time, perhaps more so for his firm, as Proskauer finished third in the tournament by shutting out Skadden 3-0 in the consolation game.
Off the ice, Proskauer’s storied sports credentials were burnished this week in a story by SI.com legal analyst Michael McCann—a founder and director of the Sports Law Institute at Vermont Law School—published along with the magazine’s most powerful people list, which includes 14 lawyers.
Former Proskauer partner David Stern, who famously left the firm in 1978 to become general counsel for the National Basketball Association, is ranked number 2 on SI‘s list. Stern became commissioner of the league on February 1, 1984, but will cede his leadership role next year to designated successor Adam Silver, who comes in at number 18 in the power rankings.
Silver, a former litigation associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore who currently serves as the NBA’s deputy commissioner, has his own ties to Proskauer through his late father, Edward Silver, a well-regarded labor and employment lawyer who chaired the firm until 1991. (The elder Silver, who joined Proskauer as an associate in 1948 after graduating from Cornell Law School, died in 2004.)
Proskauer’s influence in the sporting realm, of course, extends beyond the professional ranks. This week, the firm advised a breakaway group of seven Catholic colleges blessed with top basketball programs in reaching an agreement with the Big East Conference that allows them to formally strike out on their own as of June 30.
The so-called Catholic 7—DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and Villanova—retained current Proskauer chairman and sports law group cohead Joseph Leccesse and litigation cochair and executive committee member Bradley Ruskin to advise on their exit from the Big East.
The deal, announced this week by Michael Aresco, a former ESPN in-house lawyer who was named Big East commissioner last year, calls for the Catholic schools to get about $10 million of the $110 million in exit fees the conference has received as a result of a string of defections in recent years. ESPN.com reports that of the remaining $100 million, the Big East will pay about $15 million to an array of outside lawyers and consultants. The balance is to be divvied up among the remaining conference schools, most of which are known for their football programs.
Covington & Burling corporate partner Peter Zern and litigation partner Benjamin Block—both of whom have previously advised the Big East on its efforts to regroup as member schools sought to bolt—are again leading a team from the firm representing the conference, assisted by associates Leah Graham, Jason Levy, and Ali Mojibi.
As for the other lawyers singled out as power players by SI, Michael Slive and James Delany—who serve as commissioner of the Southeastern and Big Ten conferences, respectively—also appear on the magazine’s list, as does PGA tour commissioner Timothy Finchem.
Other attorneys making their way into the rankings include President Barack Obama, player agents Tom Condon and Scott Boras (who was once an associate at a Dykema Gossett predecessor firm), and Guggenheim Partners CEO Mark Walter, who kept a trio of Am Law 100 firms busy last year with his $2.15 billion acquisition of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers out of bankruptcy.
Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players Association, also made SI’s list, as did former Latham & Watkins and Patton Boggs partner DeMaurice Smith, elected four years ago to be the executive director of the National Football League Players Association. (Smith was criticized earlier this year for recommending lawyers close to him and the union to represent powerful player agent Drew Rosenhaus.)
Former Holme Roberts & Owen associate Travis Tygart, whom The Am Law Daily covered in detail last year in connection with his role as CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, also merited a mention in SI‘s power package through his organization’s long-running probe into disgraced pro cyclist Lance Armstrong.
Coming in a number 49 on the SI list: Stephen Espinoza, a former partner at Los Angeles entertainment boutique Ziffren Brittenham who took over as vice president of sports and event programming for the Showtime cable network in 2011.
And the most powerful person in pro sports? According to SI, that honor belongs to nonlawyer and current National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell, who was recently the subject of an in-depth feature story by SI competitor ESPN The Magazine.
Goodell, who beat out Covington litigation partner and longtime league outside counsel Gregg Levy to succeed current Covington senior counsel Paul Tagliabue as NFL commissioner in 2006, is not without Am Law 100 connections of his own. One of his older brothers, Timothy Goodell, serves as general counsel of oil company Hess, having previously cochaired the M&A practice at White & Case.
Am Law 100 Trio Take Lead on Falcons Stadium Deal
The NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and the city of Atlanta have agreed on financing terms for a new $1 billion retractable-roof stadium that will replace the team’s current home, the 71,200-seat Georgia Dome.
The Falcons have been vocal about trying to strike a deal to replace the aging stadium, which opened in 1992. The possibility that the team might move to another city, such as Los Angeles, had been mentioned if an agreement for a new downtown facility did not materialize.
On Thursday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed—a former Holland & Knight partner—and Falcons owner Arthur Blank, the billionaire cofounder of The Home Depot, announced a plan under which the city will issue bonds backed by taxes on hotel visitors to contribute $200 million toward the construction of a new stadium for the Falcons.
The Falcons, along with the NFL, had already agreed to pay the remaining $800 million needed to fund the stadium’s construction. Blank and the team have now agreed to assume responsibility for $50 million in additional infrastructure costs associated with building the new stadium, as well as to cover potential cost overruns.
A trio of Am Law 100 firms have landed lead roles on the accord, which will see Blank’s family foundation contribute another $15 million in private funds to finance projects in neighborhoods in the vicinity of the Falcons’ new home.
Advising the Falcons on the stadium deal are a team of lawyers from the franchise’s longtime outside counsel at King & Spalding led by M&A cohead Michael Egan. The firm has represented both Blank and The Home Depot on a variety of matters over the years, including the former’s $545 million purchase of the Falcons in 2001.
Since then, King & Spalding has represented the Falcons on everything from sponsorship and licensing agreements, IP and trademark matters, and even the various off-field legal troubles of its former star quarterback Michael Vick several years ago.
Besides Egan, other King & Spalding lawyers working on the current stadium negotiations for the team are construction transactional practice leader Scott Greer, and municipal finance partners William Holby and Woodrow Vaughan III, all of whom are based in Atlanta.
Leading the legal team for the City of Atlanta on the stadium matter are city attorney Cathy Hampton, deputy city attorney for finance Peter Andrews, and deputy city attorney for infrastructure Karen Thomas. Outside counsel to the city is being provided by Locke Lord finance, banking, and real estate chair Louis Cohen in Chicago.
Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development arm, will issue the bonds that will be used to finance the public’s portion of the stadium’s construction. Rosalind Rubens Newell, general counsel for Invest Atlanta and a former of counsel at McKenna Long & Aldridge, is handling matters in-house along with senior counsel E. Steven Thompson.
Hunton & Williams capital markets and public finance partner Douglass Selby in Atlanta is serving as outside counsel to Invest Atlanta on the stadium transaction, which the city itself claims will make it a candidate to host future Super Bowls and could also help it lure an expansion Major League Soccer franchise.
The Falcons aren’t the only NFL team seeking to score a new stadium deal.
The Miami Dolphins saw a Florida Senate subcommittee pass a pair of bills this week approving $400 million in public financing for a renovation program for the team’s 80,000-seat Sun Life Stadium, according to sibling publication the Daily Business Review.
The Dolphins have been keeping lobbyists busy as the team seeks to overcome public opposition to funding stadium renovations in the aftermath of a similar deal that ended with disastrous results for Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins, according to our previous reports.
While Akerman Senterfitt has long served as outside counsel to the Dolphins—such as advising on the $1 billion sale of the team and its stadium to real estate billionaire Stephen Ross in 2009—a firm spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment about whether it was advising the franchise in connection with the stadium negotiations. Dolphins general counsel Adam Zissman, who joined the team last summer, also did not return a request for comment on the matter.
Meanwhile, the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, which is seeking public funds to renovate its 17-year-old stadium, saw its finances leaked to Deadspin this week. The Panthers, who are being advised on their stadium renovation efforts by Moore & Van Allen public affairs cohead Walter Price and economic development and taxation partner William Moore Jr., claim the leaked documents are misleading. Panthers general counsel Richard Thigpen has been with the team since 1997.
Finally, Yahoo Sports reported this week that plans for a new football stadium in Los Angeles, a city that has been without an NFL team since the mid-1990s, appear to have collapsed due to a flawed financing plan. Nixon Peabody and Hogan Lovells have both been linked to the project.