Irwin Raij.
Irwin Raij. (Courtesy photo)

O’Melveny & Myers has hired Irwin Raij, co-chair of the sports industry team at Foley & Lardner, as a partner and co-chair of its sports industry group.

“This was the right fit at the right time,” said Raij in an interview Monday, explaining his decision to leave Foley & Lardner after 15 years. “[At O’Melveny] I’ll be part of something that has a bit of a broader vision for where we can build out a sports practice.”

The addition of Raij is the latest lateral recruit by O’Melveny in the sports space so far this year. In January, the firm hired DLA Piper partner Charles “Chuck” Baker in New York to chair its sports industry group, which he will now co-head with Raij. That same month O’Melveny brought on noted sports industry lawyer Jared Bartie—a former general counsel at World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. and the upstart XFL—from Herrick, Feinstein in New York.

Raij said that he has known Bartie and Baker for years, having crossed paths across the negotiating table and socially with both lawyers. Raij, as noted in a 2015 feature story by The American Lawyer, is one of the sports world’s top dealmakers. His practice focuses on media rights and stadium development deals, as well as M&A work. The only thing that Raij doesn’t do is litigation, which made O’Melveny additionally attractive due to the firm’s robust litigation group. (Trial practice chair Daniel Petrocelli is known for his work in the sporting arena.)

O’Melveny, which saw a prominent sports, media and entertainment team decamp for Latham & Watkins in late 2014, continues to have one of the more high-profile practice groups in the sporting space, one now bolstered by its recent lateral additions. Raij said that e-sports—O’Melveny is advising the newly-formed Professional eSports Association—and the advent of new technologies are revolutionizing professional sports and providing opportunities for corporate clients.

Raij declined to discuss any specific client matters that he is working on, but noted that they include a media rights deal for an unidentified Major League Baseball team and several stadium deals. At Foley & Lardner, Raij has been advising the Aloha Stadium Authority on a project for a new stadium and real estate development in Honolulu, Syracuse University on plans to replace its 50,000-seat Carrier Dome and officials in Tampa on a proposal for a new stadium for MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays. Raij isn’t only a spectator when it comes to the sports industry. He’s also invested himself in at least two professional teams.

The American Lawyer reported in 2014 on Raij becoming part of an ownership group bringing a second Major League Soccer franchise to Los Angeles. The club, called LAFC, will take the pitch next year at the new 22,000-seat Banc of California Stadium. Raij’s LAFC ownership team includes former sports stars like Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Nomar Garciaparra and Mia Hamm, as well as actor and comedian Will Ferrell. Raij was also part of a group that paid a reported $25 million in 2014 to take control of the top minor league team for Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers.

Raij joked that having ties to Los Angeles-linked pro sports teams can only serve him well at O’Melveny, a firm whose roots are embedded in the city and its entertainment industry. At O’Melveny, which saw growth across several key financial metrics in 2016, Raij will work out of the firm’s New York office. A Miami native, Raij was previously based out of Foley & Lardner’s office in the city, as well as New York and Washington, D.C.

The decision to leave Foley & Lardner, his longtime home, was one Raij did not take lightly. But O’Melveny’s offices in Asia and London—Foley & Lardner has offices in Tokyo and Shanghai—were one attraction. Raij declined to name the legal recruiter involved in his move to O’Melveny, but acknowledged that he had opportunities at several other firms. He declined to name them.

Foley & Lardner has named partners Jonathan Israel in New York and Kevin Schulz in Milwaukee to succeed Raij as co-chairs of its sports industry team along with Mary Braza, a Milwaukee-based partner who has been a longtime legal adviser to former MLB commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig.