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Sports law: area of practice

A passion for sports is secondary to key legal skills, says Daniel Geey from Sheridans.
The best part of the job is knowing what will be in the back and front pages of the papers in the coming days; the worst part is not being able to tell anyone!

Sports law encompasses a wide range of contentious, non-contentious and transactional disciplines. Any legal matter that involves, for example, rights-holders, associations, leagues, clubs, athletes or agents may well be classed as sports-related law. The type of work carried out in this field varies depending on the area of law. A property lawyer selling a sports stadium or undertaking a planning process for that stadium, for example, does very different work to a commercial lawyer drafting an image rights deal or a dispute resolution lawyer working on an arbitration before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

It’s tempting to think that sports lawyers watch sport all day but, unfortunately, the reality is that we work as hard as any other type of lawyer. It is vital from a business development perspective that we set aside time to meet prospective clients and, because their business is sport, it often means evening events and sometimes rather anti-social travelling times. 

This is a competitive sector – in law as much as on the sports field

In such a competitive sector as sport, it is vital to make sacrifices, which can mean long nights or weekend working when there are tight deadlines to meet – depending on the expectations of the client and the service they require. The job comes with some opportunities for travel: sports lawyers may, for example, attend international sports tribunals for dispute resolution matters, which are located throughout the world. And when things go well – a case is won or a transfer is completed – there will always be time for a few celebratory beers!

The best part of the job is knowing what will be in the back and front pages of the papers in the coming days; the worst part is not being able to tell anyone! Important developments such as how fans are consuming live sports in a stadium or via their phone, tablet and TV are topical now. Issues such as: Barcelona Football Club being sanctioned by FIFA; athletes banned for doping; or match-fixing issues in cricket mean fans and the wider public become interested in the outcomes and consequences of high-profile cases. 

Is sports law recession-proof?

Football broadcasting rights have bucked the wider recessionary trends by rocketing in price. This resulted in wage and transfer fee inflation, previously, but sports regulations such as the financial fair play rules have cooled the market. New areas for legal services, such as sporting cost controls, give opportunities to provide legal services to clients.  

What skills does a sports lawyer need to do the job?

  • An excellent eye for detail. 
  • The ability to think laterally to find novel solutions to client problems. 
  • The ability – as they become more senior – to bring work into the firm, delegate tasks and see the wider tactical picture in any type of commercial or dispute matter.
  • A passion for and knowledge of certain sports is useful but secondary to the above skills. 

What is it like doing a trainee solicitor's job in sports law?

Typical trainee tasks include technical legal research, attending important meetings, drafting meeting and attendee notes, liaising with the client, drafting research papers on sensitive issues and the more ‘labour intensive’ joys of bundling! The greater the understanding that a trainee acquires on a particular matter, the better the opportunities there will be for early responsibility. 

Types of law practised

  • Corporate.
  • Commercial.
  • Public.
  • Contract.
  • Tort.
  • Tax
  • Property.

Daniel Geey is a partner in the sports groups at Sheridans. He graduated from Manchester University with a degree in law and politics in 2002.