Ted Wells. (Diego M. Radzinschi)
Roughly a year after reaping $3.6 million to conduct an inquiry into the National Basketball Players Association’s operations, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison litigation cochair Theodore “Ted” Wells Jr. on Friday released the results of his independent investigation into the bullying imbroglio that embroiled the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins last season.
Wells’ 144-page report—which, like Paul Weiss’ 230-page NBPA opus, gets its own dedicated web page—documents in eye-opening detail what it concludes was a consistent pattern of harassment by Dolphins offensive linemen Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey that was aimed at fellow lineman Jonathan Martin, a second unnamed Dolphin and an assistant team trainer.
Based on more than 100 interviews with Dolphins players, coaches and front office executives—including the billionaire team owner Stephen Ross—the report says Martin specifically was subjected to “persistent bullying, harassment and ridicule” so extreme that he considered committing suicide at one point. In addition to the scores of interviews, Paul Weiss reviewed thousands of “voluntarily produced” documents, including reams of text messages, on the way to reaching its conclusions.
The report’s release comes some three months after the NFL hired the Wells-led Paul Weiss team, which also included firm chair Brad Karp and litigation partners Bruce Birenboim and David Brown, to determine what caused Martin to leave the Dolphins in late October and cut his ties to the team that drafted him out of Stanford in 2012. At the time, Karp was leading a separate Paul Weiss team representing the NFL in its sweeping concussion litigation with former league players.
Wells was unavailable for comment Friday. In a statement issued in connection with the report’s release, he said: “Consistent with my prior practices involving similar investigative reports, it is not my present intention to hold a press conference or comment further about the report. The report is thorough and comprehensive, and speaks for itself.”
One lawyer challenging the report’s findings is Washington, D.C.–based Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice litigation partner Mark Schamel. Schamel represents Incognito, who posted his lawyer’s phone number on Twitter earlier this week at the end of a tirade aimed at Martin and Paul Weiss. On Friday, Schamel issued a statement calling the Wells report “replete with errors.”
Representatives of Paul Weiss and crisis communications firm Sard Verbinnen, which is handling press duties related the report, did not respond to requests for comment about how much the firm will be paid for its investigative efforts.
The Am Law Daily reported last year that Paul Weiss received nearly $3.6 million for its inquiry into the business practices of former NBPA executive director G. William “Billy” Hunter, an ex-federal prosecutor now engaged in wrongful termination litigation with his former employer. (Sidley Austin is representing Hunter in the matter, while Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe is representing the union and Kirkland & Ellis is representing Fisher. Several of Hunter’s key claims were struck down last month.)
The NFL itself was mum Friday on the Wells report’s potential impact on its operations, including how players implicated in wrongdoing should be disciplined and whether rules governing workplace conduct for the league’s 32 franchises need an overhaul. The workplace rules could get heightened scrutiny if Michael Sam—the college football star who came out to The New York Times and ESPN a week ago—is chosen in the upcoming NFL draft and becomes the league’s first openly gay player.
Ross, the real estate titan who tapped Paul Hastings as his legal counsel when he bought the Dolphins and their home stadium for $1 billion in 2009, has called the details divulged by the Wells report “deeply disturbing.”
Dolphins general counsel Adam Zissman told The Am Law Daily in an email that Daniel Nash, a labor and employment partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld who helped his firm become a finalist for The American Lawyer’s Litigation Department of the Year, represented the team in the Martin matter. Nash and Akin Gump have close ties to the NFL and its collective bargaining arm, a registered nonprofit whose 2011 tax filing shows it paid the firm nearly $5.4 million in legal fees. (Martin was represented by Wm. David Cornwell Sr., a high-profile sports lawyer whose Atlanta-based firm was absorbed by Gordon & Rees in 2012.)
The Wells report wasn’t Paul Weiss’ only foray into the sports arena this week. The firm advised Exeter, N.H.–based Bauer Performance Sports on its $330 million acquisition of Easton-Bell Sports Inc.’s baseball and softball business.
Paul Weiss corporate partners Angelo Bonvino and Thomas de la Bastide are leading a team from the firm representing Bauer. Other Paul Weiss lawyers working on the matter include tax partner David Mayo and associates Danielle Gaier, David Klein and Samuel Welt. Canadian IP firm Smart & Biggar/Fetherstonhaugh is also counseling Bauer on the deal.
Bauer’s general counsel is Michael Wall, while the company’s CFO is Amir Rosenthal, a former associate at a Dewey &LeBoeuf predecessor firm. As a result of the all-cash deal, which is expected to close within the next two months, Van Nuys, Calif.–based Easton-Bell will change its name to BRG Sports.
Private equity firm Fenway Partners, which is based in New York despite taking its name from Boston’s famous ballpark, bought predecessor Easton Sports Inc. for $385 million in 2006 and merged it with football helmet maker Riddell Bell Holdings. Ropes & Gray advised Fenway on that transaction and is reprising its role on the sale of the Easton-Bell baseball unit.
Private equity partner Carl Marcellino, IP transactions partner Edward Black, tax partner Lee Allison, leveraged finance partners Sunil Savkar and Steven Rutkovsky, antitrust partner Michael McFalls, antitrust counsel Deidre Johnson, IP counsel Thomas Burke and tax counsel Alexandra Alperovich lead the Ropes team working on the deal for Fenway.
Fenway is keen to shed Easton-Bell’s baseball bat and helmet business due to potential liabilities it faces in litigation over Riddell football helmets, according to the New York Post. Fenway has said publicly it’s also in negotiations to sell its Easton Hockey unit, but the private equity firm has been unable to find a buyer for Riddell, which like the NFL has been sued by players suffering from head injuries.
Big Sports Media Deals a Boon to Covington, Davis Polk, Katten
Despite the uncertain status of the NFL’s tentative $765 million concussion settlement, as well as the tabloid-like revelations emanating from the Dolphins locker room, the league remains an enormously profitable enterprise. And nowhere is that more evident than the lucrative television deals it continues to strike.
Earlier this month, the NFL announced a $200 million TV rights deal with CBS under which the network will air eight Thursday night games next year. Under the terms of the transaction, the league has the option to extend the agreement into 2015, as well as the right to simulcast the Thursday games on its own cable network.
Helping the league tap into the latest revenue stream are its longtime lawyers from Covington & Burling. The Covington team that hammered out the Thursday night package is led by corporate partner Douglas Gibson, litigation partners Gregg Levy and Benjamin Block, tax partner Jeremy Spector and associates J. Jason Davis and John Oldak. Two years ago, Gibson took the lead for a Covington team that helped the NFL close a landmark $15 billion media rights deal with ESPN. (Levy, meanwhile, was a candidate to succeed NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, now a senior counsel at Covington, when he stepped down in 2006. NFL general counsel Jeffrey Pash is a Covington alum.)
In addition to grabbing a lead role advising longtime client Comcast on its $45.2 billion bid to acquire Time Warner Cable this week—a deal in which Paul Weiss is representing the target—Davis, Polk & Wardwell also counseled the Philadelphia-based cable giant on a recent TV deal with its hometown team.
Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies announced in early January that the franchise had reached a 25-year agreement worth more than $2.5 billion with Comcast SportsNet under which the team’s games will be televised locally. Katten Muchin Rosenman sports practice chair Adam Klein advised the Phillies on the matter, along with the team’s general counsel Richard “Rick” Strouse, a former Ballard Spahr partner who joined the franchise in 2009.
Davis Polk corporate partner William Aaronson and associate Carlo Caponi represented Comcast on the agreement, working with an in-house team led by Comcast senior deputy general counsel Marc Rockford and NBC Sports senior vice president of business and legal affairs Amy Cohen. Davis Polk advised Comcast on its $30 billion purchase of a majority stake in NBC from former parent General Electric back in late 2009, a deal approved by U.S. regulators in January 2011.
Stadium Sponsorships a Sweet Spot for Some Firms
While the rising value of regional sports network deals continues to transform the finances of teams in MLB and other pro sports leagues, another old standby—the stadium sponsorship agreement—remains alive and well.
MLB’s Texas Rangers announced earlier this month the sale of naming rights to their 48,100-seat home to the Globe Life And Accident Insurance Company, a subsidiary of McKinney, Texas–based Torchmark Corp. The team’s stadium in the Dallas suburb of Arlington will now be known as Globe Life Park.
W. Chris Coleman, Cheryl Vinall Denney and Clifford Dougherty III, partners with McAfee & Taft in Oklahoma City, where Global Life is based, took the lead for the company on the deal, along with Torchmark general counsel R. Brian Mitchell. The Rangers were advised by their associate in-house counsel Kathleen Cassidy and King & Spalding corporate partner John Keffer in Houston. (Neil Leibman, an attorney and energy executive, serves as chairman of the Rangers’ ownership committee.)
On the West Coast, meanwhile, Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers turned to E. Walter “Wally” Van Valkenburg, a former member of the executive committee at Stoel Rives and current managing partner of the firm’s Rose City office, for representation on a new stadium sponsorship deal with nonprofit health care provider Providence Health & Services.
The Timbers, which are owned by Peregrine Sports LLC, announced on Feb. 10 that their 20,500-seat home would be renamed Providence Park as a result of an agreement with PHS that will run through 2028. PHS deputy general counsel John Whipple in Seattle and Davis Wright Tremaine litigation partner John McGrory Jr. in Portland took the lead for the health care provider on the deal.
The agreement came only a few days after former Timbers forward Eddie Johnson sued Peregrine and the team’s medical staff in an Oregon court seeking $9.9 million in damages over the debilitating effects of concussions he sustained during his brief time with the team. The Timbers have also been quarreling with Portland State University over the terms of a contract to use city-owned Providence Park for college football.
Around the Horn
—As the latest MLS expansion franchise, David Beckham’s new team may or may not be considering adopting the Miami Vice name. Either way, Proskauer Rose corporate partner Jon Oram and litigation cochair Bradley Ruskin are advising MLS on a deal to bring a top-tier pro soccer team back to Miami, while McDermott Will & Emery corporate partner Todd Finger, a longtime Beckham legal adviser, is counseling the retired player-turned-underwear model’s ownership group. Other investors in the team include Beckham’s business manager Simon Fuller and Bolivian billionaire Marcelo Claure.
—Learfield Sports, a collegiate sports multimedia and sponsorship company based in Plano, Texas, turned to Weil, Gotshal & Manges corporate partner Kevin Sullivan, technology and IP transactions partner Jeffrey Osterman, tax partner Marc Silberberg and employee benefits counsel Steve Margolis to advise on its acquisition of Nelligan Sports Marketing earlier this month. Providence Equity Partners, a longtime Weil private equity client, paid more than $500 million to take control of Learfield last year. Learfield’s latest deal will add 41 collegiate marketing properties to its portfolio, according to the Sports Business Journal, which notes that Nelligan was advised by Michael Gray of Chicago’s Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg.
—Savannah lawyer Jamie Casino saw his local Super Bowl TV advertisement go viral in the aftermath of the Seattle Seahawks’ 43-8 blowout of the Denver Broncos. While the parody videos have now commenced, one individual not happy with Casino’s flaming sledgehammer of justice is Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz partner Charles Ruffin, the president of the State Bar of Georgia, who discussed the ad in a letter to sibling publication the Daily Report in Atlanta, which drew a response from Casino.
—Sibling publication the New Jersey Law Journal reports that McCarter & English is advising longtime NFL client the New York Giants, while two-time Super Bowl–winning quarterback Eli Manning has retained Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft to fight a Garden State suit over the alleged sales of bogus sports memorabilia.
—MLB’s Biogenesis saga may be finally drawing to a close following Alex Rodriguez’s recent decision to drop his suits against the league and its players’ union. While teams of lawyers in Florida and New York will now see their Rodriguez-related workloads recede, some of the embattled New York Yankees third baseman’s lawyers are continuing the fight. Joseph Tacopina of New York’s Tacopina, Seigel & Turano, sued last month by former client and disgraced ex-NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik, recently filed a high-profile defamation suit against Kerik and a newspaper that has kept close tabs on A-Rod, according to sibling publication the New York Law Journal.
—Yankees president Randy Levine, another lawyer who was once in close contact with Rodriguez, announced earlier this month that he was leaving his role as senior counsel with Akin Gump in New York to join the sports practice of Jackson Lewis as of counsel. At his new firm, Levine will work closely with sports practice cohead Gregg Clifton, a former MLB agent who joined the firm in 2010.
—BCF, a leading law firm in Quebec, was behind a study leaked to the media in December examining the viability of bringing MLB back to Montreal. While the Expos don’t figure to return any time soon, BCF did manage one notable recent acquisition: a team of 30 lawyers from dissolving national Canadian firm Heenan Blaikie, which includes partner Marcel Aubut, the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee and a former owner of the National Hockey League’s defunct Quebec Nordiques.
—Aubut is currently in Sochi, Russia for the ongoing 2014 Winter Olympic Games. His counterpart as head of the U.S. Olympic Committee is Scott Blackmun, a former partner at Denver’s Holme Roberts & Owen—a firm absorbed into Bryan Cave in late 2011—who is assisted on the in-house side by USOC general counsel Rana Dershowitz. While Dershowitz wasn’t available to chat about her duties in Sochi, Blackmun spoke with sibling publication The National Law Journal in 2010 about his journey from corporate lawyer to Olympic CEO.