For the first match at the brand new Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles, O’Melveny & Myers sports industry co-chair Irwin Raij flew out his father and 3-year-old son.
“It was really special,” said the New York-based Raij, who joined O’Melveny & Myers last year after spending nearly his entire career in private practice at Foley & Lardner.
The 22,000-seat stadium, which has received rave reviews as one of the country’s newest soccer-specific sports venues, is the new home of the Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC), a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion franchise that was awarded in 2014 to Raij and an investor group composed of 21 other individuals.
Other owners for the LAFC franchise include former sports greats such as Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Nomar Garciaparra and Mia Hamm, as well as actor and comedian Will Ferrell. All were in attendance on April 29 for LAFC’s 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders in a match that marked the official opening of the stadium.
“The facility I think is the best stadium in MLS,” said Raij, who has worked on many a sports stadium deal. “It’s so L.A. The approach of the club is so inclusive and thoughtful.”
While Raij’s practice focuses on media rights and stadium development deals, the development and construction of Banc of America Stadium itself saw him take on a different role than usual. Raij has often worked side-by-side with team owners, but LAFC’s new venue saw him play the role of top executive.
During the first year of LAFC’s formation, Raij sat on an ownership committee that discussed many stadium-related issues. But when it came time to get the deal done, he took a backseat, with Latham & Watkins advising the team on regulatory and environmental approvals for the project, as well as the stadium’s naming rights.
“That was a tremendous experience for me from a knowledge base and I think that’s going to help with my practice for years to come, because it is a little bit different when it is your money and it is personal,” Raij said.
After nearly a decade in public service, Raij joined Foley & Lardner, an Am Law 100 firm that earlier this year completed a merger with Dallas-based Gardere Wynne Sewell. Eventually, Raij rose to become co-chair of Foley & Lardner’s sports industry team, working on deals for the Aloha Stadium Authority, Syracuse University’s renovation of its Carrier Dome and a proposed new stadium deal for Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays.
But a little more than a year ago, Raij made the move to O’Melveny & Myers as a partner and co-chair of its sports industry group. In addition to other deals he’s currently working on that he declined to discuss, Raij is involved with an investor group called the Portland Diamond Project, which is hoping to snag an MLB expansion team in Portland, Oregon.
“We have a long way to go [in Portland],” said Raij, who counseled the group on recent bids for two potential stadium sites in the city.
As for whether or not Raij would invest in another sports team—the answer is an emphatic yes.
“Absolutely I would buy into another team,” said Raij, who also owns a stake in the Oklahoma City Dodgers, an affiliate of MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers, whose $2.15 billion sale in 2012 Raij had a key role in handling.
Unfortunately, Raij just welcomed his third child four weeks ago, so any new purchases will have to depend on whether the price is right, he joked.