Sidley Austin, a law firm with offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia-Pacific, is going big on sports law. Sportico has learned that Charles “Chuck” Baker and Irwin Raij, most recently co-chairs of O’Melveny & Myers’ sports industry group, are joining Sidley as co-chairs of its Entertainment, Sports and Media industry group. The move will bring expertise in ownership transactions, stadium construction, media rights and international deal making.
Baker has negotiated on behalf of buyers and sellers of pro teams. He counseled David Tepper in the billionaire’s purchase of the Carolina Panthers and has advised Arctos Sports Partners when the group acquired ownership stakes in NBA and NHL teams. Baker also represents Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly, an investor in the Los Angeles Lakers who has agreed to purchase Chelsea FC, and he negotiated on behalf of Kevin Durant when the Brooklyn Nets star joined the ownership of the Philadelphia Union. Genius Sports, meanwhile, turned to Baker to hash out its multi-year data partnerships with the NFL and CFL.
Raij, for his part, likewise represented Tepper and led the legal team for Guggenheim Baseball Management (which included Magic Johnson) in its purchase of the Dodgers. Rangers Baseball Express tapped Raij to negotiate its acquisition of the Texas Rangers. Former Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl hired him to sell the NBA franchise to Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens. Raij, who authored a chapter on public development for pro sports stadiums in the Oxford Handbook of American Sports Law, has also worked extensively on stadium, arena and media rights deals. MLB has retained him for stadium matters related to the Washington Nationals, Miami Marlins and Oakland Athletics, and he has represented the State of New York in stadium issues involving the Buffalo Bills. Raij has also been involved in efforts to bring an MLB franchise to Oregon and to build a new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The two attorneys see Sidley’s global presence, with over 2,000 lawyers worldwide and more than 200 in Europe, as crucial to their sports practices.
“With Americans investing in sports teams abroad and building stadiums there, and with Europeans investing in U.S. teams and facilities, the value of a law firm with global reach is invaluable.” ” Baker said in a Zoom interview. He also stressed, “the chance to work with Sidley’s outstanding private equity group” and the opportunity to “build a practice that will draw from this deep bench.”
Sidley’s “broad footprint in the U.S. and its international presence,” Raij emphasized, “makes us well positioned to thrive as the sports market continues to explode.” Sidley, he said, will allow the pair to “turn to our own colleagues in foreign offices” rather than needing to bring on local counsel at other law firms.
While both Baker and Raij talk about a booming sports industry, they recognize there are troubling signs for the economy and that a recession likely looms. They remain confident in the sports industry’s resilience.
“Sports teams are unique assets, at least in part because of their scarcity value,” Baker said, “Generally, with limited expansion exceptions, they’re not making any more. Media and broadcast deals are often long-term and guarantee substantial revenues. Depending on the league’s CBA, player costs may rise with increasing revenue, but that formula is fixed and often capped too. That’s appealing for a lot of investors and should remain so regardless of stock market conditions.”
Raij believes “there will still be deal flow during the recession. To own a sports team is a unique opportunity that a lot of high net-worth individuals will continue to seek.” At the same time, he acknowledged there will be challenges at the ownership level. “We saw some distress situations during the 2008 recession that led to some team sales and weakened revenue streams, such as sponsorships.” However, those problems “created opportunities for others.” He sees the same happening this time around.
While licensed to practice law in the U.S, Baker and Raij believe their legal and business skills add value in transactions occurring elsewhere.
“Having done a number of deals in Europe, and many team acquisitions and stadium transactions abroad,” Baker said, “I know our deep industry knowledge translates pretty readily overseas.” Raij adopts a similar philosophy, remarking that the combination of “industry experience”, “issue spotting” and “problem solving” are valuable in any sports business transaction. Both contend that Sidley’s international footprint is well suited to capitalize on those attributes.
Yvette Ostolaza, chair of Sidley’s management committee, says the firm is “excited to bring on Irwin and Chuck with their complementary, destination practices in the sports and media world.”
(This story has been updated in the third paragraph with details of Irving Raij’s work with MLB and in the 12th paragraph to add details of the pair’s work with MLS clubs.)