Remuneration has long been an obsession of many a large firm lawyer, and an eight-figure payday secured by a former Big Law associate dwarfs the annual compensation awarded to some recent high-profile lateral partner hires.
Oliver Luck, a former National Football League quarterback turned lawyer and sports business executive, has reportedly snagged a $20 million guarantee after being hired last week as CEO and commissioner of Vince McMahon’s XFL. The proposed American professional football league, which is seeking to take the field in January 2020, is a revival of a previous iteration that collapsed after a single season in 2001.
McMahon, the famous majority owner, chairman and CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., announced in January that the XFL would return in two years with teams in eight cities. At the time, McMahon denied that his decision to bring back the league was in response to difficulties facing the NFL, which has faced declining television ratings amid public spats with players and President Donald Trump over the national anthem being played before games.
But hiring Luck, whose interesting career path took several twists and turns after he spent five years as a quarterback with the NFL’s Houston Oilers followed by a stint in the commercial transactions group at Fulbright & Jaworski (now Norton Rose Fulbright) in Washington, D.C., during the 1980s, required McMahon to pry open the purse strings.
The SportsBusiness Journal broke the news earlier this week that Luck was given a $20 million guarantee to be paid out over three years years that could soar to more than $30 million if the reborn XFL is successful.
Luck most recently served as executive vice president for regulatory affairs at the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a position he has held since December 2014. He earned $800,854 in total compensation from that role in 2015-16, according to the most recent federal tax filing by the NCAA, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit.
That sum, as well as Luck’s future XFL earnings, still pale in comparison to the six-year, $140 million contract that his eldest child, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, signed in June 2016 with the NFL franchise. (Player salaries in the previous version of the XFL, known for over-the-top gimmickry that often belied its innovative contributions to sports broadcasting, averaged a mere $45,000 for a 10-game season.)
McMahon has raised roughly $100 million to fund the XFL reboot that will now be lead by Luck. Before leaving his executive role at the NCAA, Luck previously served as athletic director for his alma mater, West Virginia University, as well as president of Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo, CEO of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority and president and CEO of NFL Europe, a now-defunct former minor league affiliate of the New York-based NFL.
Luck, whose mother was born in Germany, speaks fluent German and is married to Kathy Wilson Luck, a former lawyer at Andrews Kurth. In a recent interview with NBC Sports’ ProFootballTalk, Luck said the XFL is currently looking at 30 cities for its future franchises. The XFL is already facing competition from at least one new upstart in the Alliance for American Football, a new league planning to take the field in 2019 with eight teams. (Perkins Coie business development manager Adrian Fenty, a former mayor of Washington, D.C., has been named as an investor in the AAF.)
K&L Gates, a longtime legal adviser to McMahon and the WWE, has taken a lead role counseling the XFL in its efforts to revive itself. A firm spokesman confirmed that Pittsburgh-based litigator Jerry McDevitt, who over the years has been frequently tapped by the WWE and McMahon, is once again serving as the primary partner representing both parties.
McDevitt, who has worked with McMahon for more than 30 years, teamed up with K&L Gates employee benefits and executive compensation partner Matthew Jones in Chicago in advising the XFL on its contract negotiations with Luck. K&L Gates confirmed that it is assisting the startup league in other areas, such as intellectual property, but declined further comment.
Trademark filings by Alpha Entertainment LLC, an entity separate from the publicly traded WWE that McMahon set up earlier this year to control the new XFL, show that K&L Gates partner Christopher Verdini in Pittsburgh is handling intellectual property-related matters for the league.
As for Luck, he is far from the only lawyer to lead a professional football league.
Harvard Law School graduate Jeffrey Orridge, a former Rogers & Wells associate and head of legal affairs at USA Basketball, served as commissioner of the Canadian Football League until he stepped down from that role a year ago and was replaced by former player and business executive Randy Ambrosie.
Earlier this year the Arena Football League, a struggling indoor outfit that has shrunk dramatically after running into financial troubles, announced its hire of former Arent Fox litigator Randall Boe to be its new commissioner.
Boe, who spent a decade as a senior in-house lawyer at AOL LLC, will continue to serve as general counsel at Monumental Sports & Entertainment LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based group that owns the AFL’s Baltimore Brigade and Washington Valor, as well as the National Basketball Association’s Washington Wizards and National Hockey League’s Washington Capitals, the latter of which won the Stanley Cup a week ago.