By the Department of Culture Media and Sport ()
Eleven years is a long time to wait for anything, but the legal team behind Los Angeles’ bid for the 2028 Summer Games, which was blessed by the International Olympic Committee this week, has given every indication that it can go the distance.
“I thought two years—the time between us getting the domestic bid and waiting for the final word—seemed like all the time in the world,” said Jon Oram, a top transactional attorney and partner at Proskauer Rose, who served as counsel to the Los Angeles Olympic Bid Committee.
That was in August 2015, but he’d actually come aboard more than a year before that, at the behest of Casey Wasserman, the chairman and driving force behind LA’s Olympic bid. Oram had come to know the founder of the fast-rising Wasserman Media Group while at Proskauer, a powerhouse in sports law, and offered to help.
Today Oram, Brian Nelson, general counsel to the bid committee, and LA City Deputy Counsel Manav Kumar are focusing their efforts on the U.S. Olympic Committee and Los Angeles City Council, which in roughly two weeks will be asked to give its approval to LA serving as host of its third Olympics. With Mayor Eric Garcetti leading the charge on LA’s bid that would seem a slam dunk, but …
“We’re lawyers,” Oram said. “We need to follow through.”
That sort of relentless tenacity earlier made him a rising star in the legal world, pushing through the 2011 sales of Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros and the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, both of which he’d represented for more than four years. He also helped MLB outlast Frank McCourt’s effort to retain possession of the Los Angeles Dodgers via bankruptcy that same year.
That determination also came in handy in the summer of 2015, when the U.S. Olympic Committee dropped the bid of Boston, its original choice over LA, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., as the city it would put forward to host the 2024 Summer Games to the International Olympic Committee. A storm of public outcry over the use of taxpayers’ money and polls showing most Boston residents did not want the games forced its hand.
“We think Los Angeles gives us our best chance,” USOC president Scott Blackmun told reporters when he announced Boston’s replacement, citing the city’s proven ability to run a profitable Olympics, an existing infrastructure of stadiums and arenas, and the overwhelming backing—88 percent, according to one poll—of Angelenos.
“We basically had to rip up our plan and start again,” Oram said. But this time, he’d have some help. The first hire was Nelson, a fellow alum of Yale Law School who had served as an aide to California’s then-Attorney General Kamala Harris and as general counsel of the state’s Department of Justice. City attorney Kumar was also from Yale. But they weren’t together because they knew the words to “Bulldog,” the Eli fight song.
“Our skills are complementary,” Oram said. “I’m a transactional lawyer, so my background is in sponsorships, venue agreements, corporate governance. Brian handles government relations at the city, state and federal level, as well as everything from labor issues to intellectual property protection.” Kumar worked with the Garcetti administration, and the mayor’s counsel, Rich Llewellyn, advising the city from legal perspective, along with City Attorney Mike Feuer, whose office reviewed all of the key documents.
Arenas and stadiums were leased, contractors and vendors were signed up and all was on track for 2024. But around May of this year the IOC, juggling strong pitches from Paris and LA, floated the idea of awarding two cities Summer Games at once. By June, the unprecedented decision was made, and this week it became official: Paris would host in 2024 and LA, which had shown more willingness to wait, was chosen for 2028.
The LA bid sets the cost of staging the games at $5.3 billion, lean by modern Olympic standards thanks in large part to utilizing Staples Center, LA Memorial Coliseum and Rose Bowl as venues, University of Southern California as the media center and housing the athletes at University of California, Los Angeles. It counts on tickets sales and sponsorships to offset the bulk of that, but most of the contracts to utilize those venues and the sponsorship deals had been completed in preparation for 2024 and will have to be reworked.
With the venue deals, ad agreements, housing, security and transportation pacts added in, several hundred—”I don’t think we’re at a thousand,” Nelson said—contracts and other agreements will have to be reviewed and updated. Some hotel and billboard deals are being reworked now, but those pacts won’t become a primary focus of the legal team until after the USOC signs off and the IOC finalizes the city’s bid at a September session set for Lima, Peru.
“All the positive feedback we’ve received from the various vendors and partners with whom we have contracts has been really gratifying,” said Nelson, who doesn’t anticipate serious problems. In fact, he thinks that there are projects and programs outside of the actual games—such as the ongoing expansion of the LA subway system, and improving access to city youth sports—that might benefit the most from the extra time.
Garcetti said Monday that as much as $160 million of the money advanced to the committee to help sustain it for the extra four years could go to youth sports.
“The additional time will enable us to do more for those programs and better leverage our sponsors to help as well, in a fashion that is sustainable and economically and environmentally sound,” Nelson said. “We be able to spend more time inviting the community to participate, and let them see that while the games will come and go, the local benefits will continue for years.”
Oram sounded confident that whatever the challenge, it would be met by his team, which also included Sigal Mandelker, who was confirmed as under secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence in June; LA2028 deputy general counsel and corporate specialist Tanja Olano; Heidi A. Lawson of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo; and LA2028 attorneys Anna Schmitz and Jared Schott.
Several of his Proskauer colleagues joined Oram, including partner and tax specialist Amanda Nussbaum, Nancy Sher Cohen (litigation), Anthony DiBenedetto (labor), Bowon Koh (tax), as well as corporate attorneys Sean Alford, Sally Bradley, Erica Esposito, Christine Lazatin and Krista Whitaker.
“This is a young and tremendously talented team with a lot of energy,” he said. “We might not have a lot of Olympic experience, so we might do things a little differently, but we’ve asked advice and gotten it done.”
There is no lack of legal expertise to call upon. The board of directors includes Ron Olson, a founding partner of Munger, Tolles & Olson, who oversaw audits for the committee; former California State Treasurer Kathleen Brown, a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips; and Mike Lenard, vice president of the International Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Another committee member, David Ulich, a partner at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton and president of the Foundation for Global Sports Development, was nominated for an Emmy last week for researching and co-producing the documentary “Munich ’72 and Beyond.”
The all-star legal lineup even has a bench waiting in the wings, and it includes film czar Ken Ziffren, co-founder of Ziffren Brittenham, and Kelly Crabb, a partner Sheppard Mullin who has worked on four different Olympics, was the lead counsel for China’s Beijing Games in 2008 and handled the broadcast rights agreements for the 2012 London Games.
Nelson said the legal team and committee all felt they were poised at a moment in sporting history and no one was shrinking.
“We are all aware of the power of the Olympics and want to use it on behalf of the community, this region and this nation,” Nelson said. “We want to show the country what a uniting force the Olympics can be in these extremely fraught political times.”